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Knowledge Management and the Searchable Heap

Bill Anderson at the new Praxis101 weblog pointed me to an article by James Fallows from the New York Times (purchase req) that asks a fundamental question about how we look at “knowledge�?.

The underlying intellectual question about knowledge management is whether people actually think of knowledge as a big heap of laundry just out of the dryer, or as neatly folded pajamas, shirts and so on, all placed in the proper drawers. The "big heap" theory lies behind some of the programs: we don't care where or how things are stored; we just want to find certain pairs of socks - or P.D.F. files - exactly when we need them. The "folded PJ's" theory guides a variety of programs that let you mark information as it shows up - for instance, tagging an article you know you want to refer to later, when shopping for a new car. Brains work both ways, and the ideal K.M. software will, too.

I saw this about a week ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my head- I like the laundry metaphor. The way I look at knowledge has changed recently regarding my email program. I have previously used folders to archive emails (neatly folded into a drawer).

Then I downloaded the Outlook plug-in LookOut, which allows me to search all my folders at once. Now, instead of looking through the “drawers�? for emails, I let LookOut go through the whole heap at once and give me a list of the best matches.

I like the “big heap�? way of looking at knowledge in most cases. I hate searching through folders looking for a messages/files that I may or may not have “tagged�? the right way originally. LookOut and the big heap save me time.