Monday, September 22, 2008

Structural equivalence: social bookmarking on a corporate intranet

Last week Laurie Damianos of MITRE presented to the Boston KM Forum, sharing her experience implementing a social bookmarking system within the enterprise.

For newbies, I often describe social bookmarking as similar to in its ability to track both people who read the same "books" and "books" that share common audiences--whether those "books" are literal or metaphorical. For the mathematically curious, structural equivalence is the underlying principle. Also, here's an introduction to social bookmarking I wrote a while back. Bill Ives has written a few times about applying social bookmarking within the enterprise, including specific references to MITRE's and IBM's experiences.

Laurie's presentation was great and left me feeling more excited than ever about business applications of social bookmarking. But I also left feeling puzzled by the response I got to one of my (many) questions. One way MITRE manages its in-house social bookmark system is by deleting bookmarks created by people who have since left the company. When I asked if there had been any debate within MITRE about deleting this information, I got two responses from the group: (1) Bookmarks are deleted, but the content (referenced by the former bookmarks) remains; and (2) Without the context of an owner, what good is a bookmark?

These two assertions strike me as odd, especially coming from a group that aims to solve the "lost knowledge" problem (e.g., Dave DeLong).

Deleting bookmarks of ex-employees seems to me on a par with burning bibliographies of articles whose authors are dead. After all, the artices and their references still exist. Furthermore, the authors are no longer around to provide context to their bibliographies. So why don't we save library shelf space and rip out all those bibliographies? Anyone who has ever done research can answer that question.

If bibliography-burning seems extreme, here's a milder example much closer to the MITRE reality: could save tons of disk space if it deleted the purchase records of people who haven't bought anything for the past year (i.e., those who have "left Amazon"). I wonder what the managers of Amazon would say to someone who suggested this strategy and argued that (1) the products purchased are still listed, and (2) the purchasers have left, so why bother to keep those records?

As pioneers of collaborative filering, managers at Amazon would probably recognize purchase records of the departed as a valuable resource. Acquiring those records in the first place is one of the biggest competitive advantages a service like Amazon can achieve--commonly known as surmounting the "cold start problem."

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1 comment:

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