I've been thinking a lot lately about knowledge management and its ultimate usefulness (or uselessness, depending). Data continues to burgeon, and we're totally unprepared as a society to handle it. We need a thinking shift. I'm not sure I would call it knowledge management, if by knowledge management we mean "Look, lots of data - store it." A better term might be information design. I'm not sure if this is a discipline that already exists; if it does, some pioneers might be people like Steve Jobs, Edward Tufte, Garr Reynolds, or Don Norman. If it doesn't exist, I think we need it. We need design (product, software, analysis techniques, whatever) that's geared towards
(1) communication and
How do we make use of massive streams of data while still getting things done? We can't shut the doors and say"we can't deal with this much input, so we'll ignore its existence." We can't go "All right, let 'er in!" and then drown in overload. There is too much to do; there is too little time and too few people. (3 people + 2 days + 12 people-days of work = Olin Syndrome.)
Forget motivational speakers and their exhortations to "take charge of your life" and "get organized." We know all that stuff. We roll our eyes at it. Our work habits are still a mess. It's like the couch potato that knows he should hop off his bum, stop eating TV dinners, and exercise. And yet he doesn't. How can he create a plan so he will? This is an information design problem.
Or you're presenting your new project at a conference. (Steve Jobs is reportedly insanely good at this.) How do you manage your slides, your speech, your lighting, your talk - how do you get your audience engaged and engrossed in your concept? Numbing their brains with powerpoint bullets is not the right solution, but what is? This is an information design problem.
You want to explain to your students the design process they're about to go through. You want it on a poster you can tack to the studio wall, but there's so much data to abstract. (Edward Tufte is reportedly insanely good at this.) You don't want a gigantic text dump, but at the same time, a big unlabeled triangle doesn't really tell you much... how do you make content concise yet intuitive, simple yet full of meaning? This is an information design problem.
You're working with a software team. Bug reports and revisions are flying through the air. How do you create a CMS to hold it all together? How do you share information, delegate tasks, ask questions, talk to one another, keep the wheels turning smoothly - what makes a good team good, and what can bad teams do to get better (or is all hope lost for certain group dynamics?) Where do you store what you know? This isn't just a matter of what variable name in what database on what server; this is also things like "Betty's our resident skateboarding expert, but Dan is really good at giving speeches" that nobody ever writes down but everyone just internalizes. How do you formally describe this so you can make the process better? This is an information design problem.
I have not articulated this very well because the concept isn't yet clear in my own mind. I'm hoping it'll come together soon. I'd love to hear what other people have to say, even (especially) if it's "Mel, you're crazy," "It'll never work," or "Someone's done this already." (In that case, let me know who they are so I can learn from them!)
The following websites give a strange, hop-and-skip spot overview of what I'm thinking about. None of them quite hits it, but all of them, with the addition of sociology, psychology, human factors, cognitive science, graphic design, marketing, theatre, and communications (and lions, tigers, and bears oh my!) blossom fairly close to the space I'm trying to define.
www.lifehacker.com ("Geek to live, not live to geek.")
www.diyplanner.com (I'm planning an informal series of HFID-style experiments to test these out. Any interest in being a co-experimenter... or guinea pig? Both?)
http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/ (who wants to go to his seminar in the spring with me?)