Blog post

Twitter and Knowledge Management: Synergy or Oxymoron?

By Anthony J. Bradley | September 29, 2008 | 7 Comments

social software

A FastForward blog post today addressed the potential of Twitter to transform or at least significantly impact knowledge management. The apparent oxymoron caught my attention. How can the lifestreaming of information snippets with a shelf life shorter than the life span of a fruit fly really impact knowledge management?

I don’t tweet. I have an account and have, of course, gotten in there as part of my research to see what is going on but I have not integrated it yet into my work or personal life. Why, because I put out a great deal of information on a daily basis whether writing, presenting, or in conversations with clients. I have not seen the value add of Twitter in my needs for information dissemination (I’m not saying it won’t ever happen – see below) but so far it does not fill some gaping need. Likewise, I am always looking for improved means of acquiring good information (measured as getting the most quality info in my head with the least overhead cost). Twitter has fallen short here as well.

One thing this piece does bring out is where I think the real value may be; alerting. Driving awareness might be the real value here. Twitter is an alert system that can cut into e-mail’s strangle hold. Here is where Twitter can fit into Web 2.0\E2.0 frameworks like the SLATES framework from Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee (S is for Signals) and My PLANT SEEDS framework (or free podcast). The T is for Tipping Point and the D is for discover-ability and these are where Twitter can play a significant role.

However, this can be a double edged sword since the potential for overload is even more enormous than e-mail. One thing I like about the Twitter approach and what may yet bring me to tweet regularly is the focus on people. I get to choose exactly who I wish to hear from. This is difficult with e-mail. I can join an e-mail distribution list but this is topical not really social (social with a focus on people).

So what do you think? Are you using it to alert people or to be alerted? Are you using Twitter (or micro-blogging) for knowledge management? If so, how?

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7 Comments

  • Gina Spadoni says:

    I had set up a Twitter account months ago and until the last week or so, had failed to use it. I’ve been starting to follow people and I’m starting to understand how I can use it as another tool in my kit for competitive intelligence and trends tracking.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Thanks Gina, would you say you are using it as an awareness tool or do you see knowledge management benefits?

  • Jeff Mann says:

    I use Twitter mostly because it’s fun. I also use it to test mini-ideas I’m thinking about, and keep upo with what others are thinking about. It is mostly about awareness, and keeping contact with a wide group of people without too much effort.

  • Dave says:

    I’m not sure if Twitter IS knowledge management, per se. However, I do believe that Twitter can solve many of the issues formal enterprise knowledge management efforts attempts to.

    See Motivations secion here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_management

    I believe knowledge is highly social and captured in the lifestreams you mention above. The more we document these lifestreams, index them and make them searchable it becomes increasingly easy to: locate expertise, make knowledge available (imagine if we could search the emails/water cooler conversations and IMs of our best employees?), increase network connectivity, allow employees to gain insights & ideas (perhaps one of the things Twitter does best is let people LISTEN to conversations & draw insights).

    The trick, as always, is to change the culture so instead of email & IM employees use a micro-blogging tool (or anything that can be stored, indexed & searched) to update status and carry on conversations.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Yes, changing culture is always tricky and you often need a very compelling reason to do so. I agree that much can be gleaned from twittering around who are your connectors, experts, and people sharing the same interests. This value is more from the social networking perspective. I also think there is significant value in the situational awareness domain with rapid alerting to events, content, coordination, etc. I’m still skeptical that the tweets themselves hold value as knowledge beyond a historical play by play. The shelf life of a tweet seems pretty short to me.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Take a look at this CNET article http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10152437-36.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

    It highlights the difficulty in delivering context in a 140 character post. I beleive this lack of context also limits twitter’s value as a knowledge management source.

  • I’m as of yet undecided about the use of twitter in KM. Maybe the alert function as you mention – in a more social interpersonal kind of rss feed idea – has some added value.

    I do not think that a culture change and stimulating employees to use twitter is a beneficiary course of action. In fact, I’ve been wondering a lot lately whether the whole notion of trying to induce culture chance (in organizations or elswhere) is even possible…