Woody’s Friend

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 December, 2018
Editorial: 261
Fecha de publicación original: 3 abril, 2001

Even cats want shoes

One of the most spectacular changes brought about by the networked society is the de-localisation of information and knowledge for decision-making, learning, organising work, developing projects or just simply enjoying one’s leisure time. Before, this information was guarded within the walls of organisations themselves (jealously protected from prying eyes), under the pretext of its being a “strategic commodity”. Now, curiously enough, they are discovering that a substantial part of that information and knowledge is to be found within individuals, collectives, companies and organisations who express themselves in open, turbulent and expansive networks. Open networks are vehicles for the talent and intelligence so essential to users, but also for those that wish to operate within these interconnected environments. Capturing this information and knowledge, taking part in its production, processing and distributing it is, to a large extent, what we mean by the Knowledge Society. In order to achieve this we need to construct networks that are designed to satisfy the specific interests of the users themselves – the only way to guarantee relevant information and knowledge production, (see previous editorial ” There’s No Net Like Your Own Net”). Its architecture should ensure a communication flow that guarantees the knowledge generation and growth we seek via the activity of all participants within that network. This is, as we understand it, the starting point for creating intelligent networks. And this is, in fact, what we do in en.red.ando through en.medi@, the technology we have developed for online knowledge management (O-KM).

How does one design a network of this kind, above all if one believes, as we do, that knowledge does not reside in the networks or data bases themselves, but in interaction between people? Belonging to a network is defined by the activity one develops within it, based on the specific objectives expressed in a virtual space visited by those that are interested in fulfilling these objectives. Those that supply or demand the necessary information or who hope to find it via the relationships that develop between them based on their mutual intellectual, personal, social, business or organisational interests, are to be found there. This is why we call en.medi@ an encounter technology for the supply and demand of information and knowledge in which users operate both as producers and consumers of this information and knowledge. Nonetheless, all this user activity is sustained by the three pillars that make up en.medi@’s architecture, which I will briefly try to summarise here (I will go into in more detail over the weeks to come), namely: moderation, online knowledge management and the historical memory of the network in question.

In order to define the basic shape of the virtual space as well as the type of support it requires, previous research which establishes the precise framework of its objectives (develop a project, organise work within the context of the company, promote a decision-making process, create a network of continual in-house training,etc.) the characteristics and volume of the population to participate, its degree of involvement with the network’s objectives, etc., is essential. This information makes it possible to outline the basic features of the network’s debate zone, whether it should be an open or closed one, who it is aimed at, what the role of the moderators should be, the type and number of contribution areas where online knowledge managers will do their jobs and so on.

The moderator is responsible for establishing a modus operandi in the areas of the network where all participants come together, and for setting the pace of production which will optimise the relationship between time available/degree of attention. They do not touch, filter or modify messages. They simply approve them on the basis of criteria previously established via negotiation with participants. Moderators, in addition to preventing “spam” or unsolicited advertising, also ensure that participants’ contributions are suitably backed up by references when documentation, bibliography or other sources of information are mentioned. In so doing they make sure that the quality of each contribution is the guarantee of the quality of all contributions and, consequently, of all the information circulating in the virtual space in question.

What do online knowledge managers do then? Based on what is happening in the debate area, where those that make up the network participate, the managers feed in additional material from the contribution areas to enrich and support this activity. Whether the aim of the network is, for instance, the development of an environmental project, debate on the application of quantum physics, the creation of a market in a new knowledge area or deciding on all the necessary steps for launching a product onto the market, the managers search out the relevant information and knowledge, either on the Net or elsewhere, to enliven the debate, make it more dynamic and prevent it from being limited to the knowledge and opinions of individual participants alone. Online knowledge managers, in other words, construct a collective knowledge threshold which props up all the activities on the network …. intelligent activity that is. And this threshold rests on documents, research, reviews, experiences, interviews or reports from experts and consultants, etc. All of which goes towards increasing the network’s knowledge base.

The managers, to put it more graphically, are like Woody Allen in the film “Annie Hall”. Woody is standing in a movie queue getting more and more irritated by a man behind him who keeps on quoting Marshall McLuhan. He is about to explode when he says something like, “If only Marshall McLuhan were here to put him in his place!” And then, from behind a poster in the foyer, McLuhan himself appears to correct the pretentious ramblings of his supposed disciple. Woody, playing part-time knowledge manager, managed to get the best expert available on the subject under discussion at the time. This is one of the facets of en.medi@’s online knowledge manager. But not the only one as we will see over the weeks to come.

Nonetheless, the fact that enmedi@ starts operating from a basic configuration does not mean that it is a static network. Quite the contrary. User participation, their interactions, plus the activity of the team of online knowledge managers, makes the network’s knowledge base grow and with it the basic outline of the en.medi@ itself, thereby reinforcing its ability to fulfil the objectives established in each case. The activity itself generates new needs, raises new questions and these turn into new ramifications of the network. In some cases, these may be areas where results related to an essential part of all the activity being developed on the network are published: statistics, summaries, monographs, analysis, personal profiles, reports on trends, bulletins, etc. In others, a kind of “mitosis” might be proposed, the division of the network into other networks according to the evolution of participants’ interests or aims.

The interesting thing about en.medi@ is that the design and development of intelligent networks based on this technology does not require users to install a new programme in their computers, or learn more about computer science or anything like it. In fact, the only thing they have to do –apart from subscribe to the network they are interested in or promote its creation– is carry on doing what they always do: send and receive e-mails, consult web pages, work with the search engines of the particular network in question…..and sit back to be amazed at the results. This is the extraordinary opportunity that organised online work affords, it is not just adding on the work we do every day, but a different way of organising it which allows us to take full advantage of the Internet’s potential: participation, interaction and growth of the shared knowledge base in networks especially designed to this end.

Translation: Bridget King