Amazing. After years ago suggesting that our newsletter publications could/should be written more like newspaper or magazine-style columns or weblogs, there is now an interest in looking now at the weblog model to become part of our information services. If you weren't aware, I work for a corporate library/information services organization. Maybe this is because business literature about RSS is finally reaching business decision makers or because Gartner or Forrester said something about RSS. Could also be because people are noticing that customers inside the firewall are using weblogs to find/share sources of information with their peers. I don't know. Whatever the reason, RSS and weblogging have surfaced in conversations I'm being asked to lead.
The person I'm talking to is specifically (and perhaps mainly) interested in understanding weblogs as sources for current knowledge in subject areas of interest to our users. We already provide RSS feeds to many of our databases. At a basic level what we offer is much like Feedster, and I'm proud to say we implemented it before Feedster came out, but it doesn't do as much as that great application. Ours simply allows you to execute as simple or advanced a search as you want on a source, e.g. Factiva News or our Internal Technical Documents databases, and we can give you a URL to fetch those results as RSS. The RSS can be sorted by whatever methods the database offers (e.g. date, relevance). But the focus now is on looking at some of those non-print sources that webloggers follow as a source of information for our users. One of the thoughts associated with this is selecting a few of our team of indexers and talking to them about the prospect of researching and following these sources in order to begin blogging within their subject areas of interest.
A few years after I first liked the idea of indexers/newsletter writers as columnists or bloggers, I find myself all too aware of the many obstacles to getting this to work. They're mostly to do with individual fear and resistance to being visible within the company. Sounds sad, but people are afraid of being seen as and outwardly thinking as individuals in large corporations. I've read in Jim McGee's and Lila Effimova's blogs about cultural and organizational aspects as obstacles to knowledge management using weblogs, and I'm inclined to agree that if you want to tap the potential of the knowledge worker to create/contribute/share knowledge, you have to spend a lot of time making sure the environment makes them feel enabled/empowered/rewarded for doing so. I think there is value of having knowledge loggers of different types: the pointer, the one who finds the most recent resources and blogs them frequently; the teacher, the one who finds the gems and decodes them into practical information in jargonless language you can use; the pundit, who finds the most relevant issues and ideas and through wisdom and experience creates understanding and opportunity. There are more types of bloggers, I'm sure, but the fundamental idea here is that bloggers, through continuous exposure to the right literature in a subject area, become potential authorities with time and experience. Over time these reporters can become thinkers and pundits if they feel their understanding of a subject area is strong enough to begin synthesizing the ideas in what they've read into new ideas of their own. Of course, it takes the right person as well -- someone with previous subject area experience or exposure makes a better blogger. But the question remains for me, can you nurture an environment that helps subject area experts find their voice in becoming information authorities?
The person leading this effort/exploration is focussed on getting RSS sources integrated into our indexing processes and thinking about weblogging as a vehicle for delivery. She's rightly concerned that we're relying on old methods of information delivery -- indexed content from published sources go into standard databases, get delivered via newsletters, portals, etc. -- and she's worried that we're not tapping into sources that are clearly viewed as valuable by some of our users. Specifically, the users who maintain subject area weblogs are reading/pointing to more news from C|Net and various blogs than they are published sources, e.g. journals. Think of ideas like the invisible college where publishing is often so far down the line that by the time important material gets published, the publishers may have forged ahead past the published material onto new areas. The lost time in knowledge share/exchange is important, here. More important to me, however, than the mere siphoning of external weblog information into information systems is the idea that provocative or interesting voices can emerge from this effort and be used by the company to help further it's organizational knowledge of relevant subjects. If we can carefully engineer this situation to avoid the obstacles, the potential for helping people feel completely useful to themselves and to the company is immense here. Try as you might, you can't measure that in terms of information work productivity.
This is how I feel with my small contribution to the fields I hold conversations with as a weblogger. Some questions for me remain, when thinking about the prospects of this project. I wonder how you identify potentially good webloggers -- we have at least 2 in mind -- and how do foster the right environment for them to grow into that role if they want it? When I started writing iaslash I did so with no ideas that people would actually care about my opinions about information architecture. I did have them, but I never intended to put them out there. I wanted to simply report. To summarize or abstract what I was reading with a sterile indexer's voice. I found that it was far too boring to do that for long and started inserting my opinions once in a while, realizing that I'd strayed from the model that began that blog. And I found an incredible amount of pleasure in inserting my voice into my reporting. The interesting outcome was that once in a while people would respond. I was happy to start getting into conversations with the people that I respected as the authorities or pundits in this field. I wasn't just indexing anymore, I was participating in conversations and people were taking me, my opinions and experience, very seriously. Somehow, I even got lumped in with the userati, and even got referred to as a pundit by some people. That's far from the truth, but what's important is that I gained from this new experience the confidence to let my voice be heard. And this is the thing that I wonder about when it comes to asking librarians in my organization to lend their voices to subject area blogs.
Can indexers be made comfortable enough to begin to have voices as subject area experts -- to become bloggers? I don't know. Some things have to happen for this to come into being. The environment has to be right. Potential bloggers can't be forced into this role, but must be willing to fall gently into it. Potential bloggers should be selected among those that have the appropriate skills and subject area exposure for the topics you want to cover. If these (and other important factors that I haven't identified yet) are in place, perhaps this can happen. Perhaps we can employ librarians/indexers as bloggers. I don't know. I'm afraid of this approach because it doesn't seem organic enough. If we have the right people willing to engage in this conversation about library bloggers it may happen. Only time will tell. I may have more to say about this process as I have opportunity to be a part of it. Sounds like an interesting way to join my personal interests in weblogging with some practical use in my organization. I'll try to capture my thoughts if and as they occur.