Librarian’s wiki woes

May 15, 2006 at 2:28 pm 1 comment

Oh man does this sound familiar. At Green and Gray Librarian, I read of the frustration encountered when trying to demonstrate new information technology tools to peers.

Corporate Information literacy moves at a snail's pace too.  While a research chemist by training and practice, over the past ten years I've a role in establishing our corporate Intranet (which has slowly been adopted), and message board system (which has not), and I’ve authored any number of information architecture standards, best practices, help files, and tutorials.  My justification for being involved in these endeavors has been that we scientist folks are in the information business, and a good part of our job involves accessing, aggregating, and disseminating information.  A year ago, I was asked to be the project lead for our newly-formed knowledge management team.  Discussing KM and KM enabling tools with upper management, they were shocked and awed to silence as I described RSS, wikis web logs, aggregators, Microsoft SharePoint, Google mini….  Eventually, I was asked to pilot some of my wide ranging ideas on my home turf, within the Research and Development department, you know, since we deal with that “information stuff.”

In Research and Development, we deal with the slippery information ecosystem on a daily basis.  Our group is made up of intelligent people, who are relatively familiar with information technology, and in some cases with better than average programming/IS-related skills.  We often tend to be critical about our corporate information system and its failings, often because we can envision and create our own IT tools.

Imagine my surprise to encounter doe-in-the-headlight, slack-jawed confusion when introducing the KM concept to my peers?  Granted, leading KM with technology is fraught with disaster, I’ve done my homework, but describing the potential utility of KM-enabling tools like enterprise wikis and web logs, for example, apparently sounded like so much techno-babble.

Stepping back from the front, instead of installing something like MediaWiki, I generated a mockup of a wiki-web using hyperlinked Microsoft Word documents – everyone knows how to use Word!  This proved more familiar to people, but the whole idea of editing other people’s writing was too foreign to overcome.  Nevertheless, the WordWiki will be adopted WAY way sooner than a ‘real’ wiki within our corporate Intranet.

The concept of web logs, in a project-status-report context seems a no-brainer.  During project scale-up, R&D folks are often asked the same questions by several different people several times a day.  Imagine posting this to the project log where interested parties can keep abreast on topics of interest….  Makes sense?  No takers so far.

The kicker for me involved Microsoft SharePoint.  Presenting shared documents in collaborative content management system, where you can filter and sort on metadata seems to address many of our information needs.  There are many other features we are investigating.  Further, our IS department views SharePoint as a way to ease the burden of webmaster syndrome, pushing content management to the content owners.  One feature SharePoint offers is web surveys.  These are easy to create, deploy and aggregate using plain vanilla SharePoint features.  So I did.  I posed about ten information technology/KM/R&D related questions, easily completed in less than ten minutes, and looked forward to the results.  Out of 15 people five ended up taking the survey – after repeatedly and explicitly asking the group to take the survey FIVE times (so ask another ten times? I’ve heard that one.).

This lack of cooperation struck me as a combination of confusion, incomprehension, and simple passive resistance.  “Maybe if he stops talking about it, it will go away?”  The situation reminds me of the discussion of “Mooers’ law” and the design of useful information systems in Ambient Findability by Peter Morville, “We can’t assume people want our information, even if we know they need our information.”  I can SEE ways to improve our information environment, my peers agree that we need improvement, but they seem to be uncooperative; reticent to try something new and unknown. 

I fear this situation will change slowly with employee turnover when we hire kids that have “grown up digital”.  Young lab techs we hire on a part time basis seem to easily adopt new technology tools, while our long time employees stick to email.  And only email.  I firmly believe, though, that we all need to keep up to-date and take charge of our information environment.  Age can't be an excuse.  You have to learn how to use this stuff.

The best success I’ve had in demonstrating new tech comes when I’ve made the technology practical and “real” to the target audience.  A general discussion of RSS flies over people’s heads, until you link them up with a few good feeds that they find worthwhile.  Showing the vast functionality of SharePoint is pointless compared to presenting “the product development reports filtered and sorted by chemical composition.”  Even though wikis, blogs, rss, etc. are fairly old news on the web these days, they are bleeding edge technologies within a corporate infrastructure.  Making these technologies practical and real seems to be the way to demonstrate their utility and to start capturing at least the early adopters.

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Entry filed under: information literacy.

More notes from Ambient Findability by Peter Morville. More from Morville’s Ambient Findability

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