Notes from Blogs for Information Dissemination and Knowledge Management

Blogs for Information Dissemination and Knowledge Management, ASIST Annual Meeting 2004

Jessica Baumgart
Garrett Eastman, Rowland Institute, Harvard University
Christina Pikas, Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University
Moderator: Kris Liberman, Fidelity Investments

I completely forgot to share the fantastic analogy my Dad gave me about feeds. My Dad’s been in the computer industry for years. In my mind, he knows everything about computers. I could never surpass him in knowledge about computers and systems and stuff. When I was telling him about my presentation the other week, he acknowledged that like many people, he didn’t know too much about feeds. I started explaining them to him and he said, “It sounds like you think you might be thirsty some day, so you go turn on a fire hose. That way when you’re thirsty, you’ve got water to drink.” Getting feeds can indeed be like that. But using and receiving feeds doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as (pardon the cliche) drinking water from a fire hose. When we learn how to use them to our benefit, they can be quite powerful tools.

That analogy is why my slides have drops of water all over them.

My slides are available as a .pdf. I won’t bore you with the details here. I began by asking how many people know what feeds are. Of the 123 people in the room (Yes, I counted.), about 1/3 raised their hands. Since most of the room didn’t seem to know what feeds are, I started with a brief introduction to them. I talked about ways to find and receive feeds, sources producing feeds, and how to find feeds. I tried to focus on how feeds can contribute to knowledge management.

The audience was very attentive and asked excellent questions. I noticed quite a few people using laptops. It still wasn’t on par with what I’ve seen at the technology conferences I’ve attended.

I fielded several about RSS and Atom, their differences, and which one is better. I didn’t offer a direct answer to the one about which feed is better. I recommended a post about the differences between the two.

A man asked me to talk about scrapers and third-party services where you can create a feed for a source without a feed.

A woman had several questions about Onfolio, which I mentioned in this space earlier.

“What is Gmail?” asked another woman.

Garrett spoke after I did. His slides are very similar to the presentation he gave at Mt. Holyoke College a few weeks ago. It provides an overview of his blog and what he does with it. He also talked about how he uses feeds to keep current and how useful he finds them. He gave a number of sources for feeds and mentioned several sources in science.

In the questions, his blog’s importance as a communication tool came out. No other office at the Rowland Institute shares news across the agency, so he’s created a role for imself as a news gatherer and sharer.

Another woman had several questions about how he receives and sorts through feeds. He and Christina emphasized how blogging like he does is a value added service and is very similar to selective dissemination of information.

What are the technical requirements of a blog and how can I start one, someone wondered. Garrett admitted not knowing the specifics of how to answer, but told more about his decision to begin using Blogger, then switching to Manila. (I wrote a long post with some considerations for choosing blog software a few weeks ago.)

How much time Garrett spends blogging and how he does it also came up. Garrett says he copies and pastes when he can. Some days he spends thirty minutes blogging. On other days, there’s nothing to blog.

Next, Christina shared ideas about personal knowledge management with us from the perspective of someone blogging on an intranet. She reemphasized how blogging is a value-added service. In her organization, she has to blog internally and not make it public at all. This means she can’t receive feeds from her blog in the public aggregator she uses. Later, she suggested using private aggregators for feeds from private blogs. Personal information management includes someone managing information like phone numbers and other factual information. Personal knowledge management is knowledge management on a personal scale.

Blogging is very easy, she said, and many blogs are now easing posting by allowing posts by e-mail or the posting of digital photos from phones.

She mentioned the trend of CEOs and other corporate leaders blogging, including what Jonathan Schwartz is doing with his blog. She also mentioned the Harvard employee who was fired for blogging remarks her coworkers found threatening.

One of the benefits of blogging is that it gets people writing and gives them a space to explore issues in a low risk environment. It can benefit people who tend to get distracted easily because it gives them a space to quickly save something they might have found that they can return to later.

She also mentioned issues related to levels of access, information hoarding, caching page views, and blogging policies. Motioning to the woman who asked Garrett about starting a blog, she recommended blogging on people’s own servers as opposed to using a hosted service like Blogger.

The importance of separate blogs for separate things came out in her talk because of the need for private blogs and blogs by one person about very different things. People who need to routinely destroy information, like records managers, should consider how their needs might map to a blog. Maybe blog developers can figure out a way to make data automatically expire.

A man inquired about whether mathML can be used on a weblog. Christina mentioned having written about that recently and that it’s something she’s investigating.

Comment spam reared its ugly head. Christina talked about ways she deals with it. I also chimed in about my recent problems and what blog platforms allow bloggers to do to combat unwanted comments.

Audio versions of our talks from an earlier presentation at the Berkman blog group are available as MP3s. They’re large files.

Christina (11.2 M)
Jessica (7.8 M)
Garrett (9.3 M)

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