Monday, March 24, 2003

Mapping relationships - the next step in knowledge management?

Knowledge management has been described in many ways from the next big thing to an oxymoron. Much of the past work in knowledge management has focused on the information items rather than the relationships between the creators and consumers of the information. The first major application of the relationships among consumers and producers was Google. A simplistic explanation of the technology is that Google weights rankings by the relationships betweem people who produce and consume information.

There have been a flurry of efforts to visualize relationships among people to better understand how information flows, some even visualize Google using its web api Google Browser. There are several other efforts underway to visualize relationships by examining e-mail databases and looking at the to/from/cc relationships. One made it to C|Net E-mail patterns map corporate structure | CNET another discussed by Ross Mayfield is an open source project Apache Agora by Stefano mazzocchi. I have been working on my own visualization of RSS links between blogs Blog Mapping which is making very slow progress.

Several companies (informal groups) are starting to appear around this space, RossMayfield's SocialText, Semaview looking at relationships using FOAF, and Groxis. I feel that this is a sign the next wave is coming and its foundation is in the move from unstructured to structured information. Blogs are one of the key platforms for moving from unstructured to structured information. They are providing a rich ecosystem to experiment with various structured data and metadata technologies. How long will it be before blogs become part of all the major platforms?

The key change that structured data/metadata and hence relationship mapping brings to knowledge management is that it makes it easier to connect the loosely coupled relationships between producers and consumers. I believe the value of information (and hence knowledge) has a very direct trust relationship between who produces it and who consumes it. Blogs magnify this trust effect - if a trusted node publishes a piece and it is then picked up by several other blogs and discussed the "knowledge trust metric" is increased. In a recent posting by Jon Udell Degrees of Freedom he quotes Sam Ruby "Its just data" - yes but the relationships the data has enhances its value (either making it more or less true).

For our understanding of each other and the world we need to consider the relationships between information as this is the context where we build understanding and trust between each other. Visualizing the flow of information in both time and space is necessary to achieve both understanding and trust. Without these missing elements we will not make much progress.

Anything that helps to add understanding and builds trust in our strife torn world cannot be a bad thing...

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