Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Ross Mayfield on Enterprise 2.0 & decentralising knowledge control

May 23rd, 2006 by Seb Chan

Interesting post by Ross Mayfield which begs the question of where museums fit in the spectrum of controlled/centralised-to-open/decentralised in terms of IT and knowledge control. And in terms of cross-enterprise, cross-departmental teams, museums are ideal environments (much more so than traditional companies), at least on the surface of things, to encourage a decentralised and more open approach.

Are any museums using wikis for their intranets?

The second front, that Enterprise 2.0 is Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities, not only flys in the face of enterprise culture and convention, but previously encoded political bargains. For example, a primary property of social software is easy group forming — but most enterprise systems expressly prevent it. To form a group, you not only need permission from IT, but complex configuration and in many cases even software development. Beyond applications, ever come across an LDAP implementation that supports easy group forming? This runs counter to the way many enterprises actually work today, where ad hoc cross-functional teams drive more than professional services organizations.

A second example is fine grained security. Content management, document management, portals and poorly designed wikis highlight per object/page permissioning. Certain expert users have the ability to control access and rights for a specific document. This harms productivity — when a user needs to access a document to perform a task and has to incur the overhead that can unlock it, plus the overhead of locking (structure upfront) and unlocking itself. This harms knowledge sharing — documents go undiscovered and are decidedly static, despite how the knowledge in the document is never finished. This harms competitive advantage — any system that exhibits inertia compromises a firm’s ability to adapt to it’s dynamic environment.

While .pdf is where knowledge goes to die, there are some documents that benefit from being static. But they are a fraction of the documents in a given enterprise. And with the discovery afforded by hypertext and tagging, documents have the potential to exist in a social context. Even a locked down document, if viewable, can be annotated through linked messages.

Imagine how useful Wikipedia would be if a handful of admins could lock down links to articles indefinately and without oversight, their ability to be discovered through Google, let alone edit them. Then imagine the same thing behind the firewall, where there is less risk (you can presume a greate innocence of users and know their identity). Utility is decidedly compromised.

This is why enterprise systems have low adoption rates, little user generated content, high quality metadata and email is used for everything. Every sacrifice made for sake of control reduces network effects, assumes a static environment you can design against and is designed by supposed experts outside the context of use. Contrary to the most disruptive pattern of social software — sharing control creates value.

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