Weblogs and passion

I had an opportunity to listen to Mena and Ben Trott talk about Moveable Type last night courtesy of AKMA at Seabury Western. They sparked a good discussion around the role of weblogs in creating and sustaining community (two good live blogged accounts from AKMA and Gabe Bridger by way of Mike Marusin).

At least some of the power and energy behind the weblog phenomenon has to come from passion of the creators of weblog tools. All of the products supporting weblogs are labors of love; all grew out of individual efforts to scratch personal itches–Blogger, Moveable Type, Radio.

This is why weblogs will become important to knowledge management and knowledge sharing in organizations and why the big software players haven’t been a significant factor yet.

Organizations have recognized that knowledge is an essential part of the value that they create. Knowledge management efforts on the other hand have largely been a disappointment because they have tried to force knowledge into a product metaphor; trying to force what is fundamentally a product of craft into an industrial model of reusable parts (see knowledge work as craft work).

Discussions about knowledge management in organizations always raise the issue of sharing with the argument that people will be reluctant to share out of fear that their efforts will be appropriated by others. This is rooted in a industrial product metaphor of knowledge. See knowledge work as craft, however, and the sharing issue dissolves. Craft workers exist to share the fruits of their creating. A true knowledge craft product embodies something of the soul and personality of its creator. You share it with others not so they can copy it but so that they can find inspiration in using it in their own craft.

Weblogs hold so much promise in the organizational realm precisely because they amplify this connection between craft and creator. Your record is there to be seen and to be shared.

This is also why weblogs are so confusing in the organizational realm. You have to move beyond the notion of reusable and reproducible product as the putative goal.

I had a conversation with Alan Kay a while back about Smalltalk and object-oriented programming that I now finally think I understand (conversations with Alan can be that way for those of us who are mere mortals). He was disappointed that the early commercialization efforts around Smalltalk and OO emphasized the idea of reuse. His goal had always been (and still is, take a look at Squeak and SqueakLand) to make it possible for developers to express what they were trying to do faster and more effectively. He was trying to make computers a medium for expressing certain kinds of thinking.

Weblogs accomplish something similar for knowledge workers. They lower the barriers to sharing ideas far enough that it becomes possible for nearly all of us to do so. Bring that inside organizations and you have a powerful tool for being effective as opposed to merely productive. Scary to the established order? Sure. But if value does truly depend on how well and how fast organizations can create and share new knowledge, then the winners will emerge from those who commit to making it work.