The 21st Century Knowledge & Information Professional

The volume of information continues to grow at an exponential rate; new tools, products and web services appear almost daily. Despite the recession, nothing seems to stem the tide of innovation. If anything, the economic climate has enabled companies to be even more radical in the way they create and use information. These are challenging times for the knowledge and information professional. We all need to be able to work smarter, acquiring and developing the skills to become more effective knowledge and information workers.

I appreciate that everyone may have their own systems and methods for finding, categorising and using information; they will probably have their own networks for sharing knowledge and for personal development.  However, for anyone who can’t quite make sense of this increasingly connected digital world, or is bewildered by the volume of data and information that comes their way every day, or maybe feels intimidated by the social web, here are a few pointers to put you in control of the information monster and develop your professional skills.

The Slideshare presentation illustrates 5 steps (processes) described below – that will help you to:

  • develop the filters and lenses to overcome ‘information overload’
  • manage knowledge and information in a more systematic way
  • use ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Social Media’ tools to support personalized learning and self development
  • embrace the world of collaborative knowledge sharing

Step 1 Tune into the interesting stuff

We all have our own definition as to what is interesting, but the key point here is to choose what YOU want to read and listen to and not try to absorb everything on the web. One way of doing this is to subscribe to the RSS/Atom feed from websites and blogs that you visit and which you’ve decided are interesting. Using a feed aggregator (I’ve shown Google Reader) you can categorise the feeds according to various criteria, e.g. type of content, author, source etc. You can also bundle feeds together and re-publish to your own blog or website if you choose (we’ll leave that one for now in the interests of keeping this post fairly simple). The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to treat this as an email in-box. It’s not a task-driven process, so you can read and review at your leisure (and you’ll note there are many feeds/topics I haven’t got around to reading!)

Another option is to set up alerts to trigger an email or update a feed if a particular search term is found. I’ve shown Google Alerts. This enables you to use Google’s mega-index of web pages to discover topics/content that could be of interest. If a match is found on your search term, you will be notified by email (or through a feed, see above) with a link to the relevant web page and a few words extracted from the webpage showing the context. You can decide the frequency you receive these email notifications, e.g. immediately, daily or weekly, and you can define the scope of the search, e.g. everything or news, blogs, videos, discussions.

Step 2 Sharing, Reciprocation and Trust

I’ve long believed that social bookmarking is the foundation to effective knowledge and information management. Bookmarking in itself is a useful way of filing away those useful webpage links that you have found for later use or reference even if not shared (the “social” bit of social bookmarking). It works in much the same way as “Favourites” on the Internet Explorer toolbar, but I’ve shown one of the many bookmarking services that operate in the Cloud or in other words, accessible via a browser and not tied to a particular PC or device. That way you can access bookmarks you saved on your home PC from your works PC, and vice versa. I’ve shown the Delicious bookmarking service, but there are many others, e.g. Diigo, Stumbleupon, Digg etc.

The social element is where you can share bookmarks with friends and colleagues who may have the same interests as yourself. They may spot something you didn’t, which you can add to your own bookmarks. I’ve shown my Network page, displaying the bookmarks my networks of contacts have saved. My network is shown at the top right of the page.

Sharing useful information with colleagues, friends and peers has never been easier. Most websites will have embedded links or a widget which connects to other web services and networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. Quite often all that is needed is one click and the link is shared with other networks that you belong to. Has it ever been easier to share content?

Reciprocation is the process whereby people who you share content with are likely to return the favour and share content they have created or discovered with you. This is really what the social web is all about,  sharing what we know with others.

And so we come to trust – who can you trust? I can’ t remember the source, but someone once said “trust arrives by foot and leaves by horseback”, meaning of course that it takes time to build trust but it is easily lost. We can gain confidence in numbers, e.g. if the vast majority of feedback on – say, Amazon –  is favourable for an item we wish to purchase, then we will tend to trust that aggregated opinion. If only one person gives feedback – good or bad – and we don’t know that person, then we can’t really trust that opinion. However, if we get to know that person and recognise that what they have to say is usually sensible or correct, then we will trust their opinion, and furthermore, will promote that opinion to our followers and friends. So briefly, trust has to be earned.

Step 3 Get Organised

This is a further refinement to the feed aggregation that I mentioned at Step 1. Creating a personal dashboard of information and content will enable you to assemble in one place all of the potentially useful sources you have discovered. I’ve shown iGoogle as an example, but there are other similar services, such as Pageflakes and Netvibes. Any of these will allow you to assemble your own personalised view of various content sources. This can be a mix of RSS/Atom feeds, email applications or pre-configured widgets, such as news, weather maps or currency converters, etc. that you can choose from an application store and just drop into the dashboard. Furthermore, you can share an entire personalised page that you’ve set up with your contacts, i.e. the “social”  element once again.

Step 4 Pick the right tools

Ok, easier said than done. Knowing what the “right” tools are usually involves some experimentation with the tools, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all environment. I’ve started with what is arguably the most important tool in the toolbox – the web browser This is your window into the World Wide Web, with all its millions of services and billions of users. Having a web browser that supports plug-ins is a fundamental requirement for me, since I can then integrate other products and services into the browser and access with one-click. Tabbed browsers are also useful in managing windows real-estate and PC resources, i.e. I don’t need to have several browser sessions active for different WebPages. I’ve shown Firefox, but I also use Google Chrome. Wherever possible I avoid Internet Explorer browsers (a personal thing). However, if you are a public sector worker, you may have no other choice than to use IE6, which effectively hobbles you from the start. It doesn’t support plug-ins or tabbed browsing. It doesn’t even support W3C standards and is without any doubt the worst browser currently in common use. It’s a bit like using a hammer to finely adjust the coil-spring tension on an antique clock!

I’ve shown the Delicious social bookmarking plug-in on the left hand side, which gives me immediate (one-click) access to any page I’ve bookmarked. I also have various bookmarklets installed in the toolbar, e.g. Amplify (a Twitter/Blogging service), again accessible with one click.

Step 5 Connect with Peers and Experts

In other words, grow your network. This could be achieved by joining one of the many social networks (e.g. Facebook), but if your goal is to improve your skills as a Knowledge or Information Professional would advocate joining a special interest group or a Community of Practice. I’ve illustrated the Local Government community of practice platform, but there are many specialist knowledge and information communities, e.g. KM4DEV, CPSquare, etc. I don’t think there is anything wrong in “lurking” on these networks to pick up useful information and to grow your contacts, but the real value comes from getting involved, posting questions, providing answers and just, well, collaborating and sharing knowledge.

So, with apologies to anyone for whom all of this is second nature and a bit basic, but maybe this isn’t aimed at you. I hope it is of some help to anyone who is perhaps just exploring the possibilities of the digitally connected world, or just looking for some help in getting themselves organised as a 21st century knowledge and information professional!

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