4.10 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued
Box 4.8 NASA knowledge brought to life in a story portal
A non-technical approach has been adopted within NASA. It was found that seasoned engineers, astronauts and other staff had memorable stories of lessons learned, but which were poorly known. In addition, even with their knowledge, not everyone was a great storyteller. A journalist was hired to interview staff and re-present their stories in a magazine format, which was also made available on the Web. This has evolved into the award winningmagazine, which also enables the user to view related stories by ‘Lesson Learned’.
Think about the most useful experiences that colleagues recount at work. Could they be captured in a video database, or are they too sensitive? Could they be adapted to give them an acceptable public face while still retaining some of their utility? Could you see a version of NASA's ASK magazine working? What could you hear your colleagues saying if they were invited to publish their stories?
Capturing stories for posterity clearly raises ethical as well as utilitarian questions. The ways in which stories are ‘captured’ and permission given for their use needs to be properly handled. The 30-second story shared in the lunch queue is unlikely to work on a website without adding some background and elaboration. But the investment of time and resource to craft someone's account into an engaging article is also a public recognition of the value of their experience – it is worth a little effort to give it a longer ‘shelf-life’.
Stories are just part of the social fabric of the workplace. Box 4.9 introduces other forms of social software which are beginning to shape the workplace, physical and virtual.
Box 4.9 Technology briefing: social software
Several emerging phenomena on the internet fall under the banner of social software. These tools are proving their capacity for supporting ‘lightweight’ communication (i.e. relatively low effort on the part of the user). Social software covers tools such as:
Instant messaging (also known as textchat) enables rapid exchanges of messages. All the big internet service providers provide free messaging clients, and enterprise-wide ICT tools such as Windows and Notes provide this built in.
Blogging (originally ‘web logging’) is a form of web diary in which an author adds comment/interpretation about a current issue, problem, or proposed solution. Blogs can be automatically subscribed to each other, so that authoritative authors start to be ‘syndicated’ very rapidly.
Workspaces support teams who need to share documents, or collaborate asynchronously or synchronously.
WIKIs are web pages which are editable by everyone in a group (as tightly or loosely defined as required), in contrast to normal web pages which are only editable by one person. These are finding wide application as project workspaces.
Presence indication can be embedded in any of the above, showing one's colleagues’ location and availability for communication through a simple icon (BuddySpace and Screen 1), or a low-fidelity video image (Hexagon).
These modes of communication are not only sweeping the internet for social use, but making inroads into organisational life in some of the biggest companies, some of which have cultures permitting the installation of open source tools, while others wait to adopt the tools once they are embedded in large enterprise-wide products. Even if you do not use these much, teenagers already spend a lot of time immersed in such tools (and as your future workforce, they will find such modes of interaction second-nature).
One of the reasons these tools are so popular is that they do not require users to make explicit any form of metadata, or subscribe to an ontology (see Section 4.3). In the research laboratories, however, hybrid systems are being built which add a layer of more explicit ‘semantics’, to investigate the synergies of combined human/artificial intelligence. Websites already exist where the users are free to define their own keyword tags, but who then start to adopt other peoples’ when they see that they are ‘gaining currency’ as a way to expose content (a ‘bottom-up’ version of our earlier discussion of how a new knowledge vocabulary can be set up by the declaration of a corporate taxonomy). Terms such as ‘semantic blogging’, ‘WIKIs’ and ‘messaging’ in the next few years have become increasingly widespread recently.