Knowledge Networks, Content Intelligence and The Zen of SharePoint #SharePointSym

It’s not everyday that I attend a SharePoint conference and become engaged in academic discussions about the value of knowledge sharing and content intelligence. Such was the case when I attended the opening keynote of the KMWorld 2012 of which the SharePoint Symposium was a part.

A Higher SharePoint

Listening to David Weinberger, one of the authors of Cluetrain Manifesto and Co-Director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab at Harvard University; and Jeremy Bentley, CEO  and founder of Smartlogic speak about how the concept of knowledge is changing and how applying content intelligence to the information collected can improve its value, respectively, you can’t help but understand SharePoint on whole other level.

When you think about it, SharePoint isn’t simply a platform, it’s a knowledge network. The benefits of knowledge networks go way beyond simply sharing information. According to Weinberger, participating in knowledge networks, whether it’s SharePoint or Reddit, makes us better equipped to be better humans. We learn how to appreciate the power of disagreement and difference, while at the same time we embrace humility and display generosity. It takes a lot to ask a question in a public forum, and requires great confidence to supply an answer. Even if we are able to hide behind a clever moniker or avatar, participating in knowledge sharing makes us quite vulnerable.

Is Your SharePoint Portal an Echo Chamber?

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As a result, Weinberger cautions, we resort to echo chambers to make us feel safer and secure. We are among our own in forums where we’re most likely to agree with the answers given, whether they be political, personal or professional in nature. Weinberger challenges us to embrace the messiness, the vulnerability and the uncertainty that knowledge sharing brings by learning how to appreciate difference and diversity of the crowd.

When creating our own networks, he urges us to learn how to deal with difference in useful ways, like approaching issues from different perspectives, or asking questions about the things we don’t know and inviting others to ask questions about us.

When you think of SharePoint, the same strategies should apply. Are your users power users, or everyday users? Has your SharePoint portal become an echo chamber for your team, or is a place where diversity thrives? If not, it may be time to take a step back and examine the integrity of your knowledge network.

How Smart is Content Intelligence?

In every knowledge network, there is information. But how is it structured? If you’re still managing your information the same way you did a decade or more ago, Jeremy Bentley suggests that you might want to add some intelligent content layers to it.

For starters, you probably have a lot more information to manage than you did a decade ago. It used to be that you had information overload. Now you have big data. The difference -- how you handle it. With content intelligence, you can better identify what is your information. It’s almost impossible not to label it something (even if most of us label it unstructured!).

Once you identify it, you need to extract meaning from it. What's in it? Once you extract, you need to classify it to determine what it's about.

Again, the same process can be applied to how we share and manage information within SharePoint. It sure would make it much easier to use if we knew what information there was, what's in it and what it's about, wouldn't it? The same content intelligence is just as vital when it's self-contained, as when it's being shared. Bentley says that the new world of big data needs a new layer of content intelligence -- and I've even argue that it's just as true with each new generation of SharePoint.

Let's Get Real About SharePoint

As we left the conceptual world of the KMWorld Keynote and moved into the SharePoint Symposium -- the real reason we were there, SharePoint became much more practical. However, having had the previous discussions definitely helped us better understand what SharePoint was at its core.

Thanks to Tony Byrne of the Real Story Group, we got real about SharePoint. He asked us if SharePoint’s past is SharePoint’s prologue? By understanding SharePoint's history and it's predictable nature, we are definitely better prepared for the upcoming release of SharePoint 2013. How so exactly?

Well, we know that it takes awhile to get everyone migrated to the platform -- after all how many of us have just migrated to SharePoint 2010? Yet, as SharePoint's capabilities embrace more social collaboration functionality, waiting to evolve into the platform may put you further behind.

We also know that SharePoint isn't always the answer. While SharePoint may be a product of one, it has thousands of competitors. Byrne encourages users to stop waiting and become proactive by thinking beyond SharePoint and focus on the needs of a digital workforce.

Which brings us full circle. Any knowledge network needs to be useful to its audience. When SharePoint stops being useful, it's time to move on. SharePoint loses its value when it becomes something that cannot be effectively maintained and managed. To paraphrase Weinberger, 'when what we have in common isn't one knowledge about which we agree, but a shared world about which we disagree', we have achieved an effective knowledge network that facilitates knowledge sharing.