Building a personal knowledge management environment

Just a quiet little pointer from Dave Winer this morning on the idea of his that has ended up driving a huge amount of my experimentation with creating an environment for personal knowledge management.

1/4/01: “In the centralized model for the Internet, your browser makes requests of a server that could be very far away, or slow for other reasons. Now imagine that the server is very close and you don’t have to share it with anyone, it’s yours and yours alone. It would be fast!” [Scripting News]

My work means that I am frequently not connected to the web for significant chunks of time. Ten years ago, the solution to that problem was Lotus Notes as both an email and document management environment that understood the problems of intermittment connectivity. Unfortunately, Notes got hijacked by the IS group and locked down behind layers of complexity that prevented amateur programmers from rolling their own solutions.

That was followed by a period where Outlook and Microsoft Office were almost the only tools I used on my notebook machine. For all its strengths, Office, IMHO, is fundamentally focused on the production aspects of final deliverables and is either weak or an active hindrance in the earlier stages of creating and developing knowledge work products. Nor do the components of Office do much helpful to support the real issues of producing final products that are the joint collaborative efforts of a team (compare Word’s Track Changes against any reasonable version control system that software developers would take as a necessary tool in their world).

Somewhere around the time Dave wrote this, I started playing with Userland’s Frontier and Manila and then began to use “Radio” as my< blogging platform. One of the key value added features for me was the built in outlining capabilities hidden inside Radio. Unfortunately, they are a bit too well hidden even for someone who loves outlining as a key thinking tool. Also, the innovative energy around Radio and Frontier dropped off from my amateur's perspective. I no longer have the time or the skill to do major development. I am fundamentally a technology user. What I can do is take advantage of the efforts of others and tweak and adapt what they do to my needs. That works best if you can plug into a thriving environment of developers and users. I've posted elsewhere (Experimenting with Web 2.0 on my laptop, Details of my Windows/LAMP Environment) about my current practices, but I wanted to make the connection back to the original ideas that drove my approach.

To date, most of this experimentation has been about improving my own knowledge work effectiveness over time. Moving that to the level of project team and work group has been more difficult. First, because you need to overcome the blinders imposed by the marketing investments of most software vendors who generally promise more than they deliver and who actively ignore the organizational change issues of new work practices. Second, there are the barriers imposed by IS groups who tend to be more focused on managing the risks introduced by users who are unwilling or unable to understand the technology they already have than they are on helping a handful of mavericks push the envelope. In a world of worms, viruses, and Sarbanes-Oxley that’s an entirely appropriate focus, of course. I work hard to keep the folks in IS informed and happy.

Today, even though I’m making less use of the specific tools he’s developed, I continue to make very productive use of Dave Winer’s insights and perspective.