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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Data is not knowledge

How many times do you have to be presented with a data point to understand a simple fact? Seems this is not even the right question because people can be inundated with the facts and still not hear them, no matter how many times it’s repeated. If you ever doubted this, just note that over 20% of Texans who were asked to state Barack Obama’s religion (this October) answered: “Muslim” and a further 28% did not know. OK, let’s see…. on just how any TV shows, newspapers or websites was this ‘fact’ about the leading presidential candidate discussed? Answers to the nearest thousand, please…..

Google and copyright

So a deal has been reached….Google pays $$$ and everyone is happy….right? I was quizzed by a reporter yesterday who took some of what I said and ran with it here but the new agreement does contain within it an interesting note about allowing researchers from universities to query the resulting index (thanks to John Unsworth for bringing that to my attention). Naturally I remain somewhat suspicious of this whole project being under the control of a corporate entity whose aim is to organize the world’s information for us but I do have to acknowledge the sheer ambition of the project. No doubt there are more twists in this tale, especially since the news leaking out of Harvard is their library is sufficiently unhappy with the deal as to decline participation in the ‘in-copyright’ part of the book scanning project.


I spent the best part of the last week in Columbus OH (decent weather, so-so food and service) at two back-to-back conferences, International Council for Knowledge Management (ICKM) and the annual ASIST bash. ICKM was an enjoyable new experience for me and while the schedule was punishing with 8am keynote addresses and almost as many parallel sessions as delegates during the day, I learned that KM is really struggling with the exact same problems as any other discipline of the information field. I spoke on Friday and used the occasion to push the “information accelerates discovery” message out to a new audience and I found them very receptive, being inundated afterwards for copies of my slides (which always makes me a little nervous, but….).

What I learned in two days convinced me that KM has more substance than I’d previously acknowledged, but also the same turf and status battles. Apparently some now argue KM is dead, replaced by Web 2.0 (as if!) and it’s time is over. Well imagine, a world where we don’t manage knowledge! I did learn some interesting tidbits such as the positive correlation between pharmaceutical firms success and their willingness to share info with their competitors (though I note with this that it’s correlational only — success might breed openness). The literature on KM seems difficult to get one’s arms around as it morphs into technology studies quickly or uses lots of terms you know to talk about slightly vague activities in organizations, but I’m working on it. There seems to be no end of stories of the KM role being handed to one person who is told to ‘get on with it’. Still, the complementary nature of KM to the information world in which our students reside suggests to me that we must look more seriously at this domain, and I intend to do so. Suggestions welcome.

Info age BS

You have to wonder about the power of IT to mess up business practices when you receive three bills in one month for the same phone. I just did. To add insult to injury, it was three different bills, each demanding a different sum. To add further injury to the insults on top of the original injury, the last one to arrive tacked on a late fee to a bill that was not due to be paid for another two weeks. A quick call to customer service, you say? Sure thing — cue the “we are experiencing high call volume and anticipate significant delays in answering your call”. And this AFTER spending 115 seconds navigating their menus to find the operator.

I gave up twice before persisting three days later and getting through to a pleasant but befuddled operator who after much back and forth, including leaving me on hold for minutes at a time (my minutes???) confessed, “we don’t know”! Apparently their system was ‘set up’ this way so that even though it billed me three times and included a late fee, it was apparently not really a late fee at all but a legitimate charge that was part of my bill(s). Oh, that’s good customer relations! I asked if I would get 3 bills a month from now on for the one phone but she thought not, maybe two for awhile (she was not even slightly intending to be funny). When she asked me at the end if there was anything else she could help me with, I told her to haul out for public hanging the accounting folks who designed this practice. I was intending to be funny (at least that’s my defense if the authorities come knocking). I think I detected a smile at the other end…..

One cannot put a price on the costs of such design stupidity but it seems now we are at a stage of having no control over AT&T and their kind, you just have to pay what they ask, when they ask, as you know it will only cost you time, money and a few grey hairs to get to the bottom of their thinking on this. If I believed they actually knew what they were doing, I might have at least some grudging admiration for this cynical approach to obtaining $$$ from customers, but I suspect it’s all a bit too much even for them.

One final note of irony here: when I picked up my phone from the AT&T store, one of the staff audibly complained to another when told that to complete the process she would have to ring through to customer service. “Oh no, not them” she groaned. Man, the people selling this stuff can’t stand their own customer service system. Should have been warned…..

Post script — Irony upon Irony, the day after I wrote this entry I received a Thank You letter from AT&T, telling me how happy they were to welcome me as a valued customer.

The fluidity of disciplines, part deux

The University of Kansas today announced it would revamp its school of fine arts. The move creates a new school of music as a standalone unit but pushes the remaining departments into a new School of the Arts…..ok, the words ‘shuffle’, ‘deckchair’ and ‘Titanic’ might come to mind but I suspect there is a little more to this than meets the eye. The leadership at UK impresses me from past experience and I doubt this move is just a simple reorganization of units to ease budgetary controls. The push for arts education in more majors, if nothing else, will increase the appreciation of creativity and exploration in problem solving and might help future citizens develop a tolerance lacking in business education, oh, just to pick an example. That said, the press release does remind me of that line from Deep Purple’s Made in Japan (1973!!!!) where Ian Gillan asks the soundman, “Can we have everything louder than everything else?”

The vancouver trip

Had a great trip to UBC a couple of weeks back to speak at the SLAIS inaugural Johnson Memorial Lecture, a new series funded through the generosity of Stephen Johnson to honor his parents. As I noted in my talk, funding for such a series is a tremendous gift to the field and I was delighted to accept the invitation and to engage in broader dialog across the school and university with interested people, as arranged by the hosts. If there’s a more attractive campus than UBC, with its gardens, walking spaces and proximity to the ocean, then I’ve not seen it yet. The school itself has a pretty fine new space in the new Barber Learning Center, a pleasing architectural mix of the old with the contemporary that makes dramatic use of glass.

I was greatly impressed with the students and the level of interest there in advancing both the archives and librarianship aspects of information within one program, but I don’t think they liked my idea of changing their name to the School of Information just to make it easier. The best schools are wrestling with identity and coverage but this is not a bad thing, if the debate is constructive and concerned with advancing shared vision rather than defending territory (and I don’t say this just because I came back to face a deadline for a report on our progress since accreditation, but I admit, I seem to spend so much time explaining to outside agencies what we are doing that it’s getting hard to find the time to do what they want me to explain).

The fluidity of disciplines

Or at least departments of some disciplines….the University of North Dakota announced the likely break-up of the School of Communication there due to faculty upheaval, student disquiet and all-round lack of shared purpose. The temptation to apply these criteria to many other information-related disciplines is hard to resist, but I shall. I read about this the same day I learned of a gee-whiz scheme from local Acton University MBA which promises your >$50k tuition will be paid by someone else if you actually graduate. One imagines many things….