With the continuing evolution of the computer, progress has been made in solving several knowledge capture and distribution limitations. Some argued in the 1980s that these effects will be equal or greater than that of the printing press and few would disagree now. However, at times, it has seemed that the computer, and now the internet, rather than solving problems, has only made things worse.
Out of this milieu, the modern discipline of knowledge management emerged. Knowledge management, in its current sense, is the effort to make the knowledge of an organization available to those who need it, where and when they need it, and in the form that allows them to perform better. This is little different than the purpose of those racks of clay tablets buried in the ruins of ancient Mesopotamian cities. It is not the basic requirements that have changed, but the enormous volumes of information, the speed of content changes, and the transformation of the workplace, including the need to often work virtually.
Modern requirements dictate automated systems that can bring the right information to the user - wherever that person is located - in an instantaneous manner. New communication means are required to meet these demands. Print first began to make knowledge distribution “scalable” or accessible to large, disperse audiences; however, as discussed, there was a resultant abstraction in the medium of communication lead to both an increased focus, which helped to create a new type of logic, and a reduced bandwidth which limited communication. Now advances in technology are not only addressing the scalability requirements, but they are also expanding the bandwidth of distance communication.
Print was limited in another way that new technology is helping to overcome. Plato, himself, covered this in another work, Phaedrus, He wrote that in the oral tradition learning was based on dialogue, while in the written tradition, the learner has little, if any, ability to converse with the knowledge creator. Enhanced knowledge often only comes out of the interaction of two view points.
Perhaps the re-introduction of dialogue, now on a scalable, global basis, may become one of the most significant cognitive contributions of the current phase of knowledge management, as collaboration is added to computing. The greater the shared context, the less need for direct simultaneous communication for effective collaboration. However, it is still often useful to begin with more direct communication - even face-to-face meetings - and then move to other, less context-dependent means. Studies have shown that scientists and engineers exchange knowledge in direct proportion to the level of personal contact.
The nature of the content can influence how much immediate shared context is required; some knowledge can only be communicated through dialog, whereas other knowledge can be easily acquired through the exchange of documents with opportunities for reflection in between exchanges. In some cases, a combination is appropriate. A document may serve to cover the basics and then the expert only needs to cover the fine points. In these cases, reading the document should be a prerequisite to contacting the expert to make the best use of everyone's time.
Here the richness of a blog can efficiently set the context for a more productive face to face meeting. I have heard people say, no need to go through a long introduction, I saw your blog.
Dialogue Questions: Where are the new opportunities for dialogue within knowledge management systems? What is the best sequence of personal and electronic dialogue? How might one determine when it would be better to use synchronous or asynchronous tools? How can the knowledge sharing dialogue best be enabled, supported, managed, and rewarded?
It is important to remember that managing knowledge is not a new concept - just newly framed and enabled by new technologies, media, devices, and techniques. It will take time for these new capabilities to fully evolve and for their opportunities and effects to be fully understood.
Cindy Gordon, Ben Torrey and I wrote the original version of this seven part history of KM in 1997 before the internet became as pervasive as it is today and collaborative computing was in its infancy. Both knowledge management as a movement and its supporting technology have changed greatly. I just deleted the original conclusion.
Now blogs have entered the picture to make content more personal.