Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Knowledge Sharing in The (networked) Relationship Economy.

The way we share information has changed. We have transitioned from what was never called Web 1.0 to what is now called Web 2.0. We have partially transitioned from a reliance on printed material to the (at least partial) use of digital publication. Our organizations have transitioned from the industrial age use of Quality Circles to the Information age use of Communities of Practice. Many of these concepts are becoming keys to success in the knowledge-based economy (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

But there’s a problem. With the ready availability of information comes the incentive to use the information for your own benefit without compensating the creator. We’ve seen the initiation of digital rights management in one form or another to assist those in the audio and video business in collecting royalties. Colleges and Universities have seen a variety of software tools that comb the Internet to check originality of material. All this leads us to ask the question, “How does knowledge sharing work in The Relationship Economy?"

What edition of the web are we on?

The previous era was never called Web 1.0 because no one realized there were going to be so many drastic changes that would so dramatically alter the engagement paradigm. In a relatively short period, we transitioned from the “surfing” of websites to get information to the practice of immersion in a collection of interlinked computing platforms that serve us in a way not dissimilar to software on our local machines.

The Web 1.0 period ranged from about 1994 to 2004. Websites were characterized by the requirement for designers (webmasters) to provide all the updates. Guestbooks that worked a lot like a physical bulletin board, were about as close as these static sites got to interactive. These sites were a place where we could go to get stored information.

Web 2.0 came up on the radar screen about the time the phrase was coined by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media to describe “the web as a platform.” Webmasters now have shared content update responsibility with their readers and users. Instead of static pages, these pages have dynamically generated content, and provide a place where people can meet and interact. This space is typified by social-networking sites with interactive posting areas, wikis, and blogs. Web 2.0 websites allow users to do more than just retrieve information.

Traditional knowledge sharing medium

For many years, we have shared knowledge using the written word. This is often seen as a reliable method, and is usually preferred to passing on information verbally. In recent years there has been a transition (in some areas) from printed media to digital. Though preferences for one or the other are as unique as the individual, there are some clear benefits in both cases.

The Print publication era is still with us, though it has undergone many transitions since the invention of the printing press. It is characterized by places where information is gathered, sorted and disseminated -- libraries and other information warehouses. The process of searching for printed material is a rather cumbersome and slow process. In many cases, it requires more physical action than actually accessing the material. We have to plan for time to read, and we are inclined to uni-task – just read, with very little else going on.

The Digital publication era provides a much different experience. Whether on the public Internet or in a local database, the process of searching, retrieving, and accessing material is limited only by the speed of our connection. Digital publication has redefined what we used to call bookstores and libraries. We are able to read whenever and wherever there is time and opportunity

Quality assistance

Groups of people have always collaborated to assist each other. In recent years, we have seen a transition of this practice from physical meetings to assist the organization to virtual meetings to further the profession. Quality circles and communities of practice epitomize these different approaches.

Quality Circles are a group of workers who meet to discuss improvements and make suggestions to management. The intent often focuses on the quality of output, in the content of organizational performance. Quality circles are known to motivate and enrich the work lives of employees (Quality circle, 2008). These groups are usually limited to a specific organization, and rarely focus on extra-organizational issues.

Communities of practice describe the process of social learning that occurs when people who have a common interest in some subject or problem collaborate over an extended period to share ideas, find solutions, and build innovations (Community of practice, 2008). Communities of practice are usually formed within a single discipline in order to focus efforts in sharing knowledge, solving problems, or innovative ventures, but multidisciplinary participation provides an advantage in these efforts because of the expanded focus and even holistic goal that can be achieved (Community of practice, 2008). These groups often look to challenges common to many organizations.

Quality vs. Quantity

As we have mentioned previously, there are limits to the number of people we can effectively manage and communicate with. When building networks for knowledge sharing, we will see more of a communities of practice design, where a larger group of people converse with the group. It is important to keep the intent for building in focus, and to share the intent with those we invite to join us.

Though little research has been done in this area, surely there is a limit on how big we can build and still have a useful network. Robin Dunbar, an Oxford anthropologist, is often sited by those who are concerned about network building effectiveness. His most noteworthy work (in 1993) is often used to support the notion that we cannot have a functional network above 150 connections. It should be noted that Dunbar’s limit was derived from a study of social groups in nonhuman primates. Dunbar, who reportedly does not engage in social networking himself, says that social network sites could "in principle" allow users to push past the limit (Bialik, 2007). "It's perfectly possible that the technology will increase your memory capacity," he says (Bialik, 2007).

But there’s likely a cap on the effectiveness of our networks when we add people just because we can. At some point, people feel used (as just a “number”), and word gets out in your community. Nonetheless, if done right (and for the right reasons), it is possible to build a functional network of hundreds of people. The key is on learning the basics of networking, where very encounter is an opportunity to:

•Add connections

•Strengthen existing connections

•Connect your connections

That said, we should make a habit of regularly auditing our connections

•As they affect the individual

•As they affect the larger organization

•As they align with objectives

These audits may result in additional connections, or they may result in a form of “culling” of our network. In any event, we should build our networks as a place where knowledge is freely distributed and treated with the respect it is due.

What do you think?


Bialik, C. (2007, November 16). The Numbers Gut: Sorry, You May Have Gone Over Your Limit Of Network Friends. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), p. B.1

Community of practice. (2008, February 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:18, February 4, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Community_of_practice&oldid=188459226

Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. D. (2006). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. New York: Portfolio

Quality circle. (2008, February 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:19, February 4, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Quality_circle&oldid=188527357

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