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Knowledge Management = Document Management?

Feb 13

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Wed, 13 Feb 2008 08:18:00 GMT  RssIcon

Why do people believe this?

All knowledge is not contained in documents, that much seems obvious.

But let’s assume that this were the case. Let’s assume that all the knowledge of the world was written down in identifiable documents. How would we find what we wanted?

Not by labeling the document well. Why not? Because documents have more than one idea in them typically.

In 1952, The Encyclopedia Britannica published Their Great Books Series. They decided which books in history were the most important and published a 54-volume set. The editor was Mortimer Adler. There were very few books of recent vintage in this set. When I asked Mr. Adler about this, he told me that nothing of interest had really been written in the 20th century, but that is another story.

Here is the reason I am mentioning this. Encyclopedia Britannica also published in 1952, something called the Syntopicon, which was touted as an “Index to the Great Ideas.” Note that it is not documents that were indexed by Adler but ideas. So under Education, for example, you have six pages of subtopics such as the disadvantages of being educated which refer to pages in texts written by Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke and others.

Creating this index was a massive undertaking, but an important one. These books would be useless as references without the Syntopicon. Note that it is ideas that are referenced, not documents.

This leads to some obvious conclusions:

1. Indexing knowledge is what knowledge management is all about.
2. It is ideas, not documents, that need to be indexed.
3. If knowledge in a given field is to be made useful in a computer-based knowledge management system, that knowledge had better first be indexed in ways that make sense to the practitioners in that field, and can be found easily by a computer program that is meant to help them
4. In the enterprise as compared to a research environment, ideas need to be indexed by the occasions in which they will need to be used and software needs to deliver them to people at that time.


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