Managing Knowledge on Slack 2.0

SummarySlack Logo

The proliferation of Slack into the work place has been just amazing. While the jury is still out whether Slack can replace emails, however there is no questioning the important place it has come to occupy when it comes to communication and collaboration in several businesses. While Slack has many advantages as compared to previous enterprise messaging and collaboration tools, however managing knowledge on Slack is still a challenge. This article explores the importance of knowledge management on Slack, some of the challenges and why we need a tool that has been specifically built for Slack to actually enable knowledge management on Slack.


We are all in love with Slack. Slack has over 4 million users now and continues to grow at a rapid pace, turning the enterprise communication industry on its head. A survey conducted by Hiten Shah of CrazyEgg in 2015 reveals the reasons why people use Slack – the significant ones being reduction in email volume, better interface and lots of Integrations.

Slack wasn’t the first messenger service that entered the enterprise arena. Yammer, Lync, and HipChat are some of the other chat and messaging services for business and enterprise.

Slack User Growth

Slack has a few unusual features that make it perfectly suited for work, including automatic archiving of all your interactions, a good search engine and the ability to work across just about every device you use. Another reason is that Slack is fun to use. Part of this is the helpful Slackbot that guides users and provides assistance with a playful, yet helpful personality as well as the myriad of other bots that are available to add in. Besides Slack also brings a feeling of intimacy with co-workers on the other side of the country.

When email just started out it was still a luxury; not many organizations had email. Over time, it has become an indispensable means of communication. Team messaging is heading in the same direction, and as they take the center stage in business communication, other enterprise tools too need to adjust and build on the new workplace normal. One such tool is knowledge management: how we capture, organize and share knowledge within teams.

Should We Care About Knowledge Management in a Slack Setting?

As a recent report from the Society of Marketing Professionals (SMPS) notes, as we “transition from the Information Age to the Knowledge Era . . . continued training of both marketing and technical staff is vital to a firm’s longevity. So while ignorance may be bliss, knowledge is indeed power.”

Knowledge sharing is probably the most common type of interruption at any company. Team members frequently have to share their knowledge with other team members. This is where it can become quite costly, certainly in terms of employee productivity. A lot of companies don’t have a robust enough process and lose knowledge when employees move on or change roles. They lose their team’s deep smarts: the skills and know-how that have taken a lot of time and effort to cultivate. The cost of this loss is high.

Email, by design, has an inherent filter built into it. To put something down in an email and send it out to people (and have it stay in their inboxes), it had to be sufficiently important. By contrast, chat-based tools such as Slack simply do away with this filter. While this may result in more noise, but it also results in higher conversations, more sharing of data and files. With a more intimate team more conversations can happen in channels, which anyone on the team can join. Those conversations in Slack are what create that magical sense of “ambient awareness” of what’s happening, as well as an archive of organizational knowledge over time. Hence an increasing need to better capture, organize and share all this knowledge.

Challenges of managing knowledge in Slack

Slack uses a product architecture that is based on streams of data ordered by time. That means, by essence, things will get lost as new stuff comes up in an endless waterfall of information. For group chatting and social networking, this is extremely useful. But, for managing knowledge and making it accessible, could become a nightmare

Here are some of the reasons why managing knowledge on Slack can be a challenge:

Information Overload

New knowledge is organically created and shared everyday on Slack, but it quickly moves out of sight in the constant stream of new updates. This sometimes makes it challenging to find, record and share that fleeting knowledge.

Take one look at any team’s Slack channel, and you’ll find people having casual conversations, sharing everything that they would share in an email, including pieces of information that they want their co-workers to have easy access to (like in an email where you bolden or italicize parts that need their attention) – An important link, a piece of code that needs feedback, a file that needs to be viewed, a process document, an important topic that needs discussion. Since Slack is moving fast, most of these pieces of information or knowledge, are lost in the thread.

Users shouldn’t have to always be there just so that they don’t miss out on the important things shared. The chat history becomes way too big for users to mine all the important things they’ve missed out on.

Repetitive Questions

A challenge that several teams face with Slack is repetitive questions that clutter Slack channels. For team members, repetitive questions are annoying and reduce their productivity. Slack is great to preserve conversations but not so for finding answers.


Search in Slack is actually pretty good. Not only is Slack good at retrieving past messages and conversations, but anything that is linked to in Slack or attached as shared objects (text related or with text metadata) in Slack all become searchable. The challenge here is not the search engine itself but the fact since the platform generates so much conversation, getting to the right knowledge actually takes a lot of time. Also, finding related threads and discussions across channels can be cumbersome in search when different terms (synonyms / fungible technical terms) are being used, even if search is good.

There are also situations where you know a specific person uploaded a file but you can’t remember what it was called, or someone talked about a particular subject but you can’t remember who. This makes the information particularly hard to find using Slack’s existing search, and the information gets lost in the ‘noise’ of the channel. This problem is compounded by the high numbers of messages that Slack processes.

Slack Search


It’s often hard to find specific things (documents especially) and even harder to aggregate bits of information to make sense of what’s going on in the environment. Slack way to unlock what’s going on at a “higher level”, aggregating conversational data to find trends that would go unnoticed at a lower level and remain lost in the noise of the conversation.

An important feature of knowledge management is to elicit not just the explicit knowledge shared by people but also the tacit knowledge that can be built by analyzing user behavior and actions. This can be immensely beneficial for organizations to improve their productivity.

Knowledge Management framework

We can apply the model of knowledge activities based on Probst’s building blocks of knowledge management (Probst 2002) to understand how Slack plays a role with respect to a knowledge management framework.

Probst KM building blocks

Probst knowledge activities

If we focus on the application of knowledge within the activities of business process, we see that:

Knowledge generation

Knowledge generation can happen:

  • Internally i.e. knowledge is created within the organization by employees or
  • Externally i.e. knowledge is created together with partners or customers

And knowledge generation includes both creation of new knowledge as well as construction of existing knowledge. Slack does really well in generating knowledge, especially given the collaborative processes of knowledge building.

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge Transfer is basically sharing of knowledge which also happens on Slack but with its own limitations. E.g.  although knowledge in Slack channels can be searched but those in Direct Messages can get lost. Similarly sharing knowledge with external audience, e.g. with customers or channel partners, can be a challenge.

Knowledge organization

The organization of knowledge is building the relevant metadata and taxonomies so that its categorization and access can be improved and secured. The only knowledge organization we can do in Slack is associating it with different channels.

Knowledge Saving

Although Slack maintains a log of all conversations but the possibility to distribute this or refine or perform any intelligent operations on it is not possible.

Does this mean Knowledge Management Cannot Happen on Slack?

Absolutely not. Slack cannot do everything for everyone. And this is why they have created an app marketplace to allow others to build applications that plugs these gaps. Slack’s API’s are also very well documented and they actively support the community in developing helpful extensions to the Slack environment.

The early adopters of Slack were developers, and we can take some cue from them on how they managed their knowledge. The organization of conversation into channels combined with integration of tools such as Trello, GitHub, SVN etc. really helped to efficiently access the needed information and reduce redundancies.

These tools helped users to identify relevant or needed knowledge, follow the progress of a task or project and being aware of dependencies or responsibilities by providing notifications for the tool itself. In fact integration of these tools increased awareness about what the other is doing and what is expected from one, because there is more synchronization and each time for example a card moves in Trello, users get a notification. At KnoBis, we use Trello a lot and the Trello integration has been incredibly useful to us. It automatically posts to our #engineering channel every time a team member adds an update to product backlog board.

This way, Slack included the identification of knowledge, which was stored elsewhere. Slack is used as a central contact point to summarize knowledge that existed on other platforms.

As Slack extends usage to other cross functional teams, there becomes a need for a broader knowledge management system to enable similar knowledge sharing and capturing

Knowledge Management for Slack needs to be thought differently

Slack’s features and uniqueness, which of course makes it more popular, also means that knowledge management for Slack needs to be thought differently. Most existing knowledge base softwares were developed before the era of enterprise messaging and aren’t able to latch on to the uniqueness provided by these platforms, such as:

Conversations as Knowledge

More often than not, knowledge in Slack gets built as casual conversations and not necessarily long form rich text articles or documents. With conversations, the context and history is there to be seen and can be incredibly valuable for someone to understand the background. This is very different from traditional systems, which approached knowledge mostly as rich text articles.

Introduction of Bots

While bots have long lived in the quieter corners of the Internet, Slack is pushing it into the mainstream. Bots are great at making sense out of lots of different types of information (schedules, meeting notes, documents, notifications from other business applications), and making all of that data more useful by allowing people to interact with it like they would in a conversation with a person.

Slack bots range from the obvious—bots for recognizing good work, posting photos, translating text—to the utterly inane, like playing poker. Another tells you who’s talking too much, seemingly to shut them up. There’s one to notify you each time your startup is mentioned somewhere online, streamlining that whole wasting time on the Internet thing. They absolutely can save you time.

This of course presents a very exciting opportunity for knowledge management as a “knowledgeable bot” can answer a lot of questions for team members without them now needing to disturb their team mates.

Text Editor

Most traditional knowledge management systems tend to support WSYWIG editors that do not support Markdown, while Slack uses Markdown. This can create challenges when either capturing content from Slack or posting it to a Slack channel.

Slack APIs

Slack doesn’t allow integrations to create any custom views, instead limiting apps to plain or lightly formatted text. As a result, complex integrations generally have a pseudo-command-line interface, requiring one command to display information and yet another to act upon it. This can make it a bit of challenge for knowledge bases that often depend on a lot of multimedia and metadata for each knowledge content.


It is important to note that Slack doesn’t replace everything. Dave Teare, founder of Agile Bits (developers of 1Password), recently wrote that his company’s “Slack Addiction” led to “using it over all the other tools at our disposal,” which meant that employees posted support issues and development issues into Slack instead of ticketing systems and knowledge bases. This is a classic example of what happens when we try to substitute Slack for everything.

Slack does well to sit alongside those services for conversational interactions and sharing results out of them. It isn’t going to replace a social search or a document management service or a collective aggregation service like KnoBis. Slack not only integrates things into itself, but also can have what is in it as fodder to integrate out, so conversations and things shared in Slack can be honed and more deeply framed and considered in other services and then have results and outcomes of those considerations shared back into Slack. It is a good partner for it to add context and easily drop documents that are relevant from the service into Slack. But, Slack isn’t going to replace document management, even if its search is good, the versioning, permissions, and access controls for compliance and other valid needs aren’t there in Slack. Your document management service could become more pleasurable to use though. And therefore Slack users need a “Knowledge Network” – A place where Slack users can post things that others “need to know”, preferably integrated with Slack so that you can post-once-show-everywhere.

About Rajat

Rajat is the founder of KnoBis. KnoBis is a knowledge base software for Slack and Google Apps teams. Powered by a strong search, KnoBis makes it easy to capture and share knowledge in any format: conversations, rich text articles, multimedia documents etc. Use cases of KnoBis include sales enablement, customer support enablement, intranet/internal team knowledge base and self support module for customers.

Rajat has close to 12 years of experience in the computer software industry in engineering, product management and marketing roles. Rajat is a graduate from IIT BHU.

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Making The Case For Enterprise Social Networks

Why is it that so many organisations still struggle to (a) understand what an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is and (b) how it might benefit their business. Despite the fact that social networking technology has been around for over 10 years, there is still a general lack of social business maturity on the part of many organizations, who appear to lack the culture to be able to understand, appreciate, and leverage ESN’s.

Gartner have reported that over 80% of Social Business efforts will not achieve intended benefits by 2015. At least part of the problem is that where ESN’s have been implemented, they have been treated as technology deployments with a focus on adoption and usage. A different way to think about this is that ESNs represent a new way to communicate and form relationships — and because of that, can bridge gaps that exist in terms of information sharing and decision-making processes.

For anyone yet to be convinced of the benefits of social collaboration within the workplace, here are a few points to add to your business case:

Enterprise Social Networks:-

  1. let employees become happier at work: by allowing all facets of their personalities to be expressed.
  2. connect employees with each other: thus forming deep, long lasting and more meaningful relationships.
  3. encourage every employee to believe they can make a difference.
  4. promote innovation, creativity and change within an organisation. This is achieved through the network culture of communication and collaboration that is created and encouraged by use of Social Media tools. This is opposed to the traditional top down way of management and communication, which is acceptable for some forms of official control and communication in the enterprise. This however is not good for fostering creativity at work and deters innovation from flourishing within the organisation.
  5. avoid the problem of duplication of work in the enterprise by giving much more visibility to what other people are doing. This can be achieved through the use of wikis and open collaborative platforms that encourage sharing and dissemination of ideas and thought processes.
  6. put people with similar interests and skills together and make it easier to search for someone with the skills you are looking for. This allows cross-departmental efforts to be exchanged more seamlessly and organically because the relationships are based on skills and interests rather than the traditional departmental or project base relationship.

Point 4 is perhaps better illustrated below, showing the relationship between traditional command and control structures vs. social networks.

Hierarchies & Networks

It’s also about time organisations got over the mental barrier of making sure that the content on their ESN is strictly about work. They fear that personal discussion will result in less productivity or inappropriate private content. If anything, the organization should encourage “personal” postings because social networks are a representation of who you already are. If you are an unproductive, time-wasting team member, your activities (or lack of) will be plainly visible to everyone. I can think of many other less productive activities,  such as sitting in meetings that have no purpose!

I know it’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it here, because I still see the same old approaches to ESN deployments – focus on behaviours and relationships, and less on the technology.  That way you are more likely to think about value creation rather than tools and features. It’s only through investment in behaviours and relationships that value can be created through:

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Knowledge capture
  • Improved decision-making
  • Employee empowerment

Otherwise Gartner’s predicted 80% failure rate will become reality!


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What’s the point of Jelly?

Jelly fish

I have to admit I’m attracted to anything new and shiny, and particularly products and services that aim to create or propagate value through networks and networking. I was therefore intrigued by the recent launch of Jelly, which has the gravitas and experience of Biz Stone (of Twitter fame) behind it. It certainly meets the “new” criterion, but I’m not so sure about the “shiny”.

The principle behind Jelly is summarised in a short blog post by Biz Stone himself:

“Using Jelly is kinda like using a conventional search engine in that you ask it stuff and it returns answers……Jelly changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks….getting answers from  people is very different from retrieving information with algorithms….it has the benefit of being fun”

Mmm, well I’d question whether this is anything like using a conventional search engine. I’d agree that getting answers from people is very different to getting answers (search results) from algorithms, and whilst this might be fun for some, it opens up the system to the mad and the bad, so you can forget about getting consistently serious or factual answers to your questions.

The concept behind the Android/iOS app is simple: take a picture of something and ask a question, and wait for the folks on your social networks (and their connections) to provide answers. This immediately limits the reach of who is likely to respond, since the question will only be seen by your followers and their networks, compared to, say, Quora, which has a global reach.

Answering questions about a picture is not exactly unique, and I believe I’d get a lot more relevant answers by using Google Goggles. But maybe the “fun” bit comes from the unpredictability of the answers you get by using Jelly?

When questions from your network come up, you can either answer them or swipe them away if you don’t have the answer; essentially, you’re being forced to make an instant judgment on whether you can answer the question, and once you’ve swiped it away, you won’t see it again unless you’ve starred it – which is a request to follow the answers.

The questions come up seemingly at random, with no ability to filter by subject matter, to avoid questions by nuisance users, or to go back to previous questions you may have dismissed by mistake.

I think it’s rather hopeful that the network-effect is going to create value from the questions and answers that get submitted, not least because of the problems in filtering out the trivia. I appreciate it’s early days, and maybe once the trolls and idiots have had their fun it might settle down into a more useful visual crowdsourcing environment.  However, I remain sceptical, and find myself swipe, swipe, swiping away those endless trivialities such as “what should I pick from this menu?”, or “what am I drinking?”, or “do you like my iPhone cover?”. I noted that one Jelly user went out of his way to answer every question he could find with “feta cheese”, an endeavour which was either epic trolling, an attempt to make a point about the lack of junk filtering on Jelly, or possibly both.

So, having tried it, albeit for a limited period, I have to admit I can’t see the point of Jelly. If I want a question answered I’ll stick with Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Quora, and if I’m out and about I’ll use Google Goggles. But, don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m the wrong demographic and that there is a latent network of people who thrive on trivia out there. If so, it should do well, but it’s not a network that I want to belong to!

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Social Network Analysis: making invisible work visible.

Social NetworkEveryone is talking about the enormous benefits to be had through collaborative working and better employee engagement. Industry analysts report a 25% improvement in organisational efficiency when companies successfully deploy a collaboration platform. Whether it’s social media or social collaboration, organisations are striving to deliver better value through a more connected workforce and closer engagement with customers and stakeholders. The term ‘social business’ nicely sums up this important development. The paradox is that organisations continue to allocate a significant proportion of their IT budgets on communications infrastructure and ‘social software’ and virtually nothing on systems and tools that can analyse how effective this investment is.

While companies know that social networks are important, most managers don’t understand how these networks really work. These social networks don’t appear on any formal organisation charts, yet can significantly affect performance and innovation. The problems is, how can leaders manage what they can’t see?

Managers may implement collaborative technologies with the vague notion that they will help employees interact more seamlessly and that this will improve the quality of their work. They may plan culture change programmes or apply KM techniques to create “learning organisations” in the hope that promoting open and honest conversations will lead to innovation and performance improvements. Or they may establish communities of practice with the intent of promoting knowledge creation and sharing as well as improving the quality and efficiency of work.

Sometimes these initiatives have the desired effect, but the results are not always positive. Organisations can get bogged down. Decision makers can become so consumed that most of their employees cannot get to them in time to seize opportunities. And individual employees get overloaded with email, meetings and requests for help, to a point where their own work, job satisfaction, and even health are affected.

It seems odd that we’ve accepted this state of affairs for so long, perhaps partially driven by the hype around enterprise collaboration systems that will instantly unlock the previously suppressed creative forces within the organisation. Managers need to take a more targeted approach, based on information about how work is really done within their organisation. The power of a network perspective, whether applied to a group or an individual, lies with the precision this view offers. Managers who target strategic points in social networks can quickly increase an organisation’s effectiveness, efficiency and opportunities for innovation. In networks of any size it is not possible for everyone to be connected to everyone else, nor is it desirable. An indiscriminate increase in connections can be a drag on productivity. A crucial benefit of network analysis often comes from discovering excessive relationships. The discovery can help managers develop ways to alleviate over-burdened people and decrease time-consuming connections.

What else can network analysis reveal? The detail is in the attached paper, but the following is a brief summary of what a well-informed manager could glean from a network analysis approach:

  • Bottlenecks – individuals or groups that provide the only connection between different parts of the network.
  • Number of links – insufficient or excessive links between departments that should coordinate effectively.
  • Degrees of separation connecting all pairs of nodes in the group. Short distances transmit information accurately and in a timely way, while long distances transmit slowly and can distort the information. This can also show the number of nodes that an individual would have to go through to get an answer.
  • Isolation – people that are not integrated well into a group and therefore, represent both untapped skills and a high likelihood of turnover.
  • Highly expert people – that may not be utilised effectively.
  • Individuals whose potential departure might result in the loss of unique knowledge to the organisation.
  • Organisational subgroups or cliques – can develop their own subcultures and negative attitudes toward other groups.
  • Emergent leaders and informal experts.
  • Linking patterns amongst blogs.
  • Emergent communities.
  • Tracking growth of on-line communities.
  • Staff movements and location (e.g. for optimising office use). ‘What if’ analysis can be performed to predict the outcome of your organisational and social change initiatives.

Find out how Social Network Analysis (SNA) can make the ‘invisible work, visible’ (see attached PDF). Having a better understanding of how your networks work is the first step in achieving more effective collaboration and improving workplace efficiency.

I’ve become convinced that how networks work has become an essential 21st Century literacy. Harold Rheingold.

Image courtesy of higyou (Shutterstock)

Social Network Analysis Proposition

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Overcoming The Challenges of Internal Social Networking

Internal social networks offer numerous collaboration benefits for the average enterprise. They allow for quick, fluid, and constant communication, thereby making it easier for employees to coordinate at all times. They encourage feedback, proposals, and ideas from all workers, thus opening the door for innovation in any shape or form.

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Guest Blog by Jennifer Smith

It’s no secret that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have found tremendous enthusiasm among businesses and enterprises. With Facebook, a company can freely advertise and conduct focus group research. It can draw traffic to a website and effectively engage with a loyal consumer base. It can create communication opportunities between employees, partners, and affiliates.

Many businesses have, in fact, embraced social media to such a degree that they seek to implement a social networking platform of their own. These internal social networks are accessible only to employees and include message boards, profile pages, file sharing software, and private communication applications – not dissimilar from a public social media system.

Internal social networks offer numerous collaboration benefits for the average enterprise. They allow for quick, fluid, and constant communication, thereby making it easier for employees to coordinate at all times. They encourage feedback, proposals, and ideas from all workers, thus opening the door for innovation in any shape or form. They furthermore integrate well with cloud computing platforms and allow files to be shared and transmitted in a secure manner. And, finally, they can contribute to the culture and sense of community that a company seeks to foster. Instead of having to stand near the water cooler or sit around in conference chairs, employees can feel integrated even when removed from the office.

There are two main concerns that prevent many managers from implementing an internal network. First, implementation difficulties and security challenges stand to pose headaches even after adoption occurs. Second, it is often feared that employees, when given access to an internal social network, will only become less productive during the workday as a result. Both of these concerns ultimately boil down to money, as business decisions usually do. Are the costs of installing and maintaining the system worth those peripheral benefits – benefits that may only be offset by productivity losses in the first place?

While this question is a valid one, it is likely that these concerns will only continue to diminish in the future. When internal social networks integrate further with cloud computing software, businesses will increasingly view the joint security and implementation costs to be worthwhile ones. When social networking becomes an even more dominant business tool, companies will more and more often realise that collaboration between employees is just as important as communication between consumers. And in this manner, the challenges posed by internal networks will – slowly but surely – be surmounted and overcome.

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Engaging the Social Web for Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)

The Social Web for Personal Knowledge Management. A one-day training course that provides a practical and detailed introduction to social media and social/professional networks that will enable delegates to achieve a greater understanding of their context for use and deployment within their organisation and for personal and professional development.

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Personal Knowledge Management

I’ve recently re-vamped the social media/social networks training that I do on behalf of TFPL. The training has always been about using the social web for personal and professional development, (and anyone outside of marketing and comms may argue that this is what it’s really for!) but I wanted to re-emphasise the value for those interested in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).

Details of the course are on the TFPL website (link above), but replicated here:


There is a desire to develop more effective knowledge sharing and a culture of collaboration in most organisations, but little recognition of what this means in terms of staff development and overcoming barriers to change. The enormous growth of social media tools and social/professional networks over the past few years has created new opportunities and new challenges for people and organisations that want to embrace this dynamic world of social interaction and fluid knowledge flows. However, It is not widely recognised that collaboration and knowledge sharing are skills and practices that rarely get taught. It’s something we may learn on the job in a hit or miss fashion. Some people are natural at it. Others struggle to understand it.

This one-day course provides a practical and detailed introduction to social media and social/professional networks that will enable delegates to have a greater understanding of their context for use and deployment within their organisation and for personal and professional development.


  • An understanding of social media tools and social networks, and their context for engagement and knowledge sharing
  • An understanding of the three-step process to personal knowledge management: seeking; sense-making; sharing *
  • Developing an approach to more effective management of information ? avoiding information overload.
  • Using free web tools for discovery, research and engagement.
  • Knowing how to overcome the barriers to knowledge sharing and build a trusted network.


  • Overview of the social web
  • Creating and maintaining your personal profile
  • Seeking, listening and observing: an introduction to social bookmarking, aggregators and tracking tools.
  • Sense-making: an introduction to blogs & blogging, wikis, Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, Google+
  • Social capital, trust and reputation.
  • Sharing and participating: an introduction to social networks and Communities of Practice for personal and professional development.
  • Creating and personalising your KM routines and digital environment for enhanced learning and professional development
  • Practical exercises and examples of the Social Web in action

Teaching style:

Highly interactive workshop and lecture

Who should attend?

Those who wish to understand and engage with the Social Web as an environment for personal learning, professional development and effective collaboration.

I should add that apart from the scheduled events organised by TFPL (next training event is on 2nd October 2012), I can schedule and run the training to meet specific needs of people and organisations, using the organisation’s in-house facilities or an external training venue. Just let me know your requirements and I’ll provide a quote.

These training courses tend to fill up quite quickly, so get on your computer and book now if you’re interested!

* The “Seeking, Sense-making, Sharing model is based on the work of Harold Jarche.

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Surviving and Thriving as a 21st Century Knowledge and Information Professional

matrix_5 small

The above named article has been published in the most recent issue of Business Information Review. Regretably, under the terms of agreement I signed with the publishers (Sage), I’m not allowed to post the full article here. However, the following is an abstract, and many of the screen shots I used in the article can be found on my Slideshare presentation.


The volume of information continues to grow at an exponential rate; new products, social networks and web services appear almost daily. Government and public bodies are releasing more data for public scrutiny; companies are becoming more radical in the way they create and use information; global news and events reach us in near real time, 24/7. Professional and social networks proliferate. We are awash with data and information. This article describes five simple steps we can take and some of the tools we can use to become more effective in managing and using digital information and the social web for personal learning and development.

I hope that some of you will find this article helpful in equiping you with the tools and processes to better manage the daily information flood!

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Knowledge Hub – part 4: Social Graph and Activity Stream

Continuing with my posts about the Knowledge Hub (Beta release in April 2011):

I wanted to touch on another of the key features being delivered by the new system, the ‘Social Graph’ and ‘Activity Stream’. These are intimately related and hence it makes sense to discuss them as one feature or capability.

Social Graph

A social graph in its broadest context is the mapping of everyone and how they are related.  The term is usually used to refer to online identities, e.g. as used within social networks.

As of 2011, the largest social graph in the world is Facebook’s, which contains the largest number of defined relationships between the largest number of people among all websites due to the fact that it is the most widely used social networking service in the world. (Source: Wikipedia).

Concern has focused on the fact that Facebook’s social graph is owned by the company and is not shared with other services, giving it a major advantage over other services and disallowing its users to take their graph with them to other services if they wish to do so, such as when a user is dissatisfied with Facebook. Google, has attempted to offer a solution to this problem by creating the Social Graph API, released in January 2008, which allows websites to draw publicly available information about a person to form a portable identity of the individual, in order to represent a user’s online identity.

You can see what your Facebook social graph looks like by adding the Social Graph App. Mine looks like this:

Facebook Social Graph

If you’re a member of the LinkedIn network (an open standards network), you can generate your own social graph here.

Mine looks like this:

LinkedIn Social Graph

The first release of the Knowledge Hub will not support a graphical representation as shown in the examples above, but the system itself will maintain the data representation, which will be used for managing the activity stream described below. A graphical representation will be considered for a future release.

The Knowledge Hub is an open platform that is adopting Open Standards wherever relevant and possible. We will be exploring the use of Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) standards for creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. FOAF defines an open, decentralised technology for connecting social Web sites, and the people they describe.

Activity Stream

The activity stream is a chronologically ordered list of activities of ‘friends’ or contacts that have been mapped to the ‘Social Graph’ for each individual user.  Facebook users will no doubt be familiar with the activity stream (referred to as the ‘News Feed’ in Facebook) showing what their friends are doing and saying.  Only people who are in the user’s social graph (i.e. those who have been confirmed as ‘friends’) will show up in the activity stream.

activity stream

Any and all actions are logged in the activity stream such as writing or commenting on a blog, uploading a document or photo, confirming attendance at a meeting, joining a new workspace or group etc. The system will automatically create an activity stream (or ‘digital footprint’) for each user, based on the actions they carry out.  Each user will see an aggregated stream of activities for all of the people in their social graph, and for the workspaces that they have joined.  Filters will be available for showing the activities for a specific user (who must be either part of your social graph or a member of one of the workspaces you have joined), or updates from the members of a workspace to which you belong, or just your own updates (a ‘Me’ filter).  It will also be possible to block updates from a specific user, e.g. if you find their activities irrelevant or overwhelming!

So, what’s the benefit of all of this?

Activity streams are ubiquitous to any social network; I’ve mentioned Facebook, but they are also present in LinkedInFriendfeedTwitter and just about any other social network you can mention. The activity stream provides information and intelligence about events that are likely to be relevant to a user and the broader members.  The user’s social graph is built up over time and includes people who the user has specifically identified as ‘people of interest’, for example:

  • a shared interest or hobby
  • working for the same organization
  • working in the same location or region
  • having a similar job
  • an expert in a topic you are following
  • a thought leader
  • etc.

We expand our networks and our knowledge by social interaction, i.e. we learn from others.  When we’re in meetings we pick up lots of information from the tacit conversations we have with our colleagues. The activity streams we see in these virtual spaces are fulfilling a similar function, albeit far more powerful, because we can pick up on ALL the conversations and activities from a group as opposed to just the people we have had the time to talk to in a meeting.

For example, how useful might it be to know that your colleague had just joined a community of practice that you were completely unaware of, but given you both have similar jobs is likely to be as relevant to you as it is to your colleague? Or to know that another colleagues have just posted information about a conference that is looks highly relevant to you?

There are many other tools, facilities and capabilities embedded into the Knowledge Hub, but in my opinion, the most powerful and useful of them all is the activity stream, because it provides the ‘glue’ that links otherwise unconnected actions and events together, providing both a lens and a filter on the things that are most likely to be of interest to you.

For the next Knowledge Hub post I’ll talk about some of the exciting developments around the App Store.

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PHIN 2009 Conference – CoP Presentation

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak at the Public Health Information Network (PHIN) conference in Atlanta, Georgia, taking place between 30th August and 3rd September. This will be my second visit to Atlanta, having been there in May this year to meet with staff at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to share knowledge about the UK local government Communities of Practice, a strategy I developed for the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) in 2005 and which continues to thrive with over 35,000 users at the last count.

PHIN/CDC are in the process of developing collaboration tools to support geographically dispersed professionals working in the field of public health informatics, and Communities of Practice (CoPs) are a key part of this strategy.  This is the primary reason I’ve been asked to attend, and I’ll be talking about the lessons we’ve learnt in developing the CoP Platform for local government. The focus of my presentation will be on the issues around measuring value of social networks and Communities of Practice. I think this will fit in quite well with the goals and objectives of the conference, repeated here:

To build a public health informatics community through the sharing of promising practices and lessons learned.


  • Extend the reach of innovative public health informatics practices.
  • Summarize current issues and trends in the field of public health informatics.
  • Translate issues and opportunities in public health informatics and health information technology for public health practitioners and policy makers.
  • Facilitate the development of a community focused on accelerating the field of public health informatics.
  • Validate public health informatics activities at national, state and local levels through open source collaboration and community building.
  • Integrate knowledge gained to leverage resources for sustainability of information technology, workforce development, and human capital.

A full programme of the conference is available online if anyone is interested. I’m speaking on the last day of the main conference, Wednesday 2nd September. I will make my slides available on Slideshare after the conference, and (access to Internet permitting) will provide regular Tweets on any the issues.

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Social Media Game for NGLIS


I was asked by the Network of government library and information specialists (NGLIS) to run a workshop session on Social Media Tools for their 2009 Conference, held in London 3rd June 2009. I thought this might be an ideal opportunity to run the Social Media Game that  David Wilcox and Beth Kanter had developed.

I enlisted the support of my colleague Dave Briggs, who I know had run this game before, and set about preparing the cards in accordance with the guidelines on the SocialMedia Wiki. A copy of the cards is included in the attached PDF.

Enabling the future of collaboration

The following is a detailed explanation of the process we followed for the workshop which others may want to adopt or adapt if they are considering using this game, which I can recommend as a fun way of learning about the benefits and implications of using social media tools for engagement and collaboration.

Purpose of the workshop.

A simple but fun game that enables participants to discuss the merits of different social media tools and their utility and effectiveness in solving various real-world problems. The workshop will help delegates get a better appreciation of social media tools and the issues that need to be considered when deploying the tools in different situations.



The delegates were split into three teams of roughly 7 people in each team. Each team was asked to describe a scenario (a project, problem or requirement) related to their work environment. This was set out on an A3 piece of paper structured as follows:

  • Scenarioa description of the issue/problem.
  • Location scope of influence, e.g. within a department, across depts., local, regional, national.
  • People – the people affected by the issue/problem.
  • Other considerationsany other influences or issues that might be relevant to resolving the issue/problem)

Each team was then asked to think of a number between 7 and 15 and write this number on their respective A3 sheets. The reasoning for this is given later.

Step 2:

One member from each team was asked to join one of the other teams and explain the scenario to that team. In effect they were acting as a ‘customer’ and the team they had just joined were now ‘consultants’. Each team was now working on one of the other team’s scenarios and not the one they developed themselves.

Each of the teams was given a set of social media cards, one side of which defined the functionality and on the other side an explanation of the application and the considerations for its use. Each team then set about solving the problem described in the scenario using a selection of the cards. Each of the cards had a points weighting which represented a nominal budget for using that particular feature. At this stage the number defined in step 1 was revealed as the budget for each consultancy team. Each team were required to deliver their solution within this budget, or to justify to their ‘customers’ any reason for exceeding the budget.

Step 3:

Having worked out their respective solutions each team explained their reasoning to the team that had originally generated a scenario, i.e. their customers. The customers were then asked to verify whether the solution met their requirements and could ask the consultant to clarify any points. Any budget overrun had to be justified by the consultants and agreed by the customers.

Step 4:

The final part of this game was a plenary feedback session on any lessons learnt and whether the teams had found the process useful in gaining a better understanding of how social media tools can be used to solve real-world problems, why some social media tools would not be appropriate in some circumstances.

I can recommend this game to anyone who wants to introduce the concepts of social media to their audience whilst at the same time making it a collaborative and fun learning process.

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