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The Meaning of Knowledge Management


We hear the term knowledge management bandied about. It sounds suspiciously like a trendy new phrase for what we used to call "documentation".  In truth, knowledge management is more than documentation. It encompasses documentation, data management, library management, and information design. Knowledge management is increasingly important; as the amount of content has increased, the task of locating the information in the content has become more difficult. You see, information is different from content. And knowledge is something that derive from information.

Let's look at an example. British Airways have a fourth passenger class that fits between business class and economy class. This new class is called World Traveller Plus . If I want to find information on this new class, I should be able to look at the British Airways Web site. But although there is lots of content on the Web site, the information is very hard to find.

British Airways Web Site Screen Capture

You can look at the page concerned by clicking on its screen capture above. The page refers to 'extra comfort', 'convenience', 'more space', and 'without the premium price tag'. But the content is all non-specific. It doesn't tell me how much leg room the seats have, or why it is more convenient, or how far the seats are apart, or whether the food is different, or how much it costs. So lots of content, but very little information. And what knowledge can I gain from the page? Very little. I might get a warm feeling, but I'm still none the wiser.

One of the reasons that Web sites don't provide information is that they are treated like television, not like a book or a library. Graphic designers and marketers have a different vision of the Web than do writers, librarians and communicators. To a graphic designer, a library is boring. To a reader, a library is a treasure trove.

Which brings us to the reader - often forgotten in the Web development cycle. No matter how many studies are conducted, the consistent message from Web users is that they don't want flashy Web sites. They want functional sites, pages that download quickly, rich in information. Easy to navigate. Well structured. Up-to-date, and well supported. They want the information contained in the content to be accessible. A good Web site therefore requires good information management.

Where does the information come from? From someone in the organisation with the knowledge. In the technical writing world, these people are known as SMEs, or Subject Matter Experts. The diagram below shows the knowledge life cycle. Knowledge management is the organisation and administration of the knowledge life cycle.

Without knowledge management, information is not transferred smoothly from Web site to reader. Knowledge management requires "information architects" with librarian skills to structure and organise content, writers to shape the information into words, and editors to tune and filter the content so that the information can be found.

Further reading: Information Design


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  • British Airways Web Site Screen Capture

  • Information Design (showarticle.aspx?id=8)
  • (http://www.british-airways.com/21stcentury/popup/traveller_plus/index.shtml)
  • Information Design (informationdesign)

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