Published on Sep 1 2018

How (I Think) Technology will Change Knowledge Management

How do you manage content that manages itself?

A film still of Keanu Reeves in a VR headset from the movie Johnny Mnemonic

Originally published on Mercer's internal network

Mercer Link is a website that runs on Microsoft SharePoint, which is a Content Management System (CMS).  SharePoint is an extremely common CMS for corporate intranets because it makes organizing huge amounts of content (almost) easy. We’ve recently completed an incremental upgrade of SharePoint and may make an exponential upgrade to a cloud-based digital workplace soon. With a potential upgrade to a cloud-based technology, I've made some guesses as to how I think how the role of Knowledge Managers and the CMS (the primary tool of the Knowledge Manger) might change. 

Content Houses

Traditionally, the function of a CMS has been to provide a way to easily create and organize the pages of a website so that users can find whatever content the KM is tasked with managing. A CMS lets you build a place for content to live so people can find what they were looking for and check out other things they might be interested in. 

Screenshot of the admin screen for Wordpress

Wordpress (admin screen pictured) is the CMS that powers over 25% of the internet

That works out great if your site is the destination. But it's becoming more common for your site to no longer be the destination. It's increasingly common for users to come directly to content via social networks or search. They are consuming the content without the context of the site that houses it. A friend of mine who is a social media manager at a large online publication explained it this way:

"a huge portion of the userbase comes from external platforms that only read the single article then leave, so having a website is becoming less important and having compelling content is becoming even more business critical" 

With Channels like Twitter, Facebook and Google directing users to the granular piece of content, there is less need for a structured site. The content exists in one large pool and is served up to users when they interact through these other channels. This is increasingly becoming the pattern within companies as well. Internal social and search channels like Yammer, Delve, Facebook Workplace and Slack are becoming the primary mode of interacting with content within companies.

How good are the algorithms?

It used to be that one of the great things about a creating a website was since you designed the site, you were able to logically structure how and where the content displayed. What you added to the home page, was content that you felt needed to be seen first.

Today however, most users are not going to the homepage, but rather are directed to content via external feeds and channels. How can we be sure that our users are going to see the content that we want them to see? That’s where programming comes in.

All modern content distribution channels operate on very robust algorithms that are designed to make sure users are seeing the content they should be seeing. The system develops a huge profile about the person based on the things they do within the system and serves them content that they know they'll like. With machine learning, a Content Manager doesn't even have to add metadata to content to accurately match it to a user. The system scans the content for key terms to automatically build the metadata. These systems will actively try to get the user to interact with the content through things like notifications, feed re-ordering, and/or callouts. It takes very little effort for the user to get to the content they want.

Screenshots of various UI components

The various ways different content distribution channels try very hard to get you to look at content

So problem solved right? The knowledge / content manages itself and there's no way that our users won't get to it. This is true, but there's actually another problem that needs managing.

Content Curation, not Content Management

Have you ever looked through Netflix forever, not being able to find anything to watch? That's not because there's a big failure in their system. It's just because most of the movies on Netflix aren't very good. The system is doing a fine job of serving up the content to you, it's just that there's no good content. But that's something a Content Manager can change. I think the new role of content managers will be in making sure the system has good content to use.

These systems will never be able to make an opinionated decision about the quality of a piece of content. They try by looking at the metrics of a piece of content. But just because a piece of content is widely shared doesn't mean it's good or even factually accurate. This is a problem that all major channels struggle with and most of the time, the solution isn't programmatic. It's content managers making judgments about the quality of the content that's being flagged. It's easy to imagine how destructive a bad piece of content could be if spread throughout an internal organization. The other side to it, is content managers highlighting quality content that might be getting lost and marking users as verified experts and sources of information. This makes it easier for users to denote the best content as well.

Screenshots from netflix and twitter

Netflix highlights new shows that I might miss in the normal feed & Twitter verifies news accounts so I know its accurate

System Helpers

The other way I imagine content managers working within the new digital workplace is by helping the system do its job more efficiently. These are the tasks that require a human understanding of language, business practices and behavior. Examples of this is creating synonym lists for search engines and relating like terms. For instance, "Davos" is a town in Switzerland. It's also where the yearly "world economic forum" occurs. As a knowledge manager, you would link "Davos" to "world economic forum" and "WEF" because you know most of your users would want information about the forum and not the town itself. Also, you might relate some of our key solutions to "topics" discussed this year at WEF as well.

Other ways Knowledge Managers would help the system is by understanding user behavior and making sure there is content for that behavior. For example, if a KM notices a lot of people getting failed searches on a particular term or concept, that must mean there is a content gap there and the KM can then try and fill it.

Knowledge Marketers

If these changes are where Knowledge Management is heading, I don't think the title "Knowledge Manager" is accurate anymore. The knowledge is managing itself. I think a more appropriate title is "Knowledge Marketer." The role is to make sure our users have the best possible content and to be champions of that content.

As the systems we use to manage content become smarter and more capable of automatically delivering content, how do you see the role of Knowledge Managers evolving?

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