Knowledege Management fallacies: Good organization is key

Even though keyword based search doesn't yield satisfactory results all the time, it often delivers better than manual organization.

Search trumps Navigation

Sophisticated Users
Use application launchers like Launchy, GnomeDo or Quicksilver
Use hierarchical navigation from start menu or equivalent
(Coders) Use Ctrl-N (IntelliJ) or Ctrl-Shift-T (Eclipse) to open a class
Use hierarchical navigation of the Package/Project explorer
Use search engines to find information on the internet
Might prefer using something like Yahoo Directory to get to the information they seek
Use desktop search to find files on their hard disk
Always use the hierarchical file system explorer

Traditional hierarchical organization requires users to navigate through the hierarchy to get to whatever they are looking for. Such navigation is unnecessary in cyberspace and is painful for seasoned knowledge workers. Reliance on taxonomies is a relic of physical world thinking. Their importance is overrated in a digital medium.

Folksonomies don't replace search either. Being multidimensional, they are useful for finding 'similar content' after you have found the first one. Even then, it requires very good participation by the user community to be relevant.

Comprehensive organization is expensive and time consuming

It takes humans to put things in their place. :-) Correct classification requires some understanding of the subject. At a time when the quantity of content is growing rapidly, it is expensive to hire people with understanding of the subject to maintain a organization hierarchy. Relying on users to do this themselves doesn't work out well in my experience.

Lightweight, deferred organization is easy
One of the problems with upfront organization is that you have to come up with a scheme that is acceptable to most (if not all) users. Instead, it is easy to slap on a starting page or a table of contents later if you are using something like a wiki. When my project wiki began to get unweildy, someone just added a page called "Day one reading material" with links to several other informative pages (thus bypassing all notions of hierarchical navigation). New joiners to the project were simply directed to this page.

Just Ask Around
Asking people for information has never been easier. Corporate microblogging (micro-messaging) tools like Yammer (or just a company wide always-on chatroom) make it very effective and non-intrusive to ask questions like: "Can sometime point me to existing collateral for xyz service offering?"


dancingmango said...

Problem with this. It assumes people know what they are looking for. It aslo assumes you have a powerful and usable search that actually works. Search is also not very good for the old long tail, Wiki's are great for topical information that is important now, but try finding something that was produced a couple of years ago. Just because it is old doesn't mean it has less value. Classification systems support serendipitous finding far more effectively that search does.

Leandro said...

Ohh God I'm beginner user just because I "Always use the hierarchical file system explorer" ...

Sriram said...


Yeah, I agree search doesn't help in the cases where I only have a vague idea of what I am looking for to begin with. However, in the context of corporate knowledge management, I mostly have a fairly concrete idea of what I am looking for. I was arguing against attaching undue importance to organization, especially in view of its costs. As for serendipitous finding, in an environment of rapidly growing content, tagging and clever social bookmarking techniques (e.g. StumbleUpon) are very effective. Finally, why do you say that search is not good for old long tail - isn't it just a matter of how you configure it?

@ Leandro:
LOL. I certainly didn't mean it that way.

Saager Mhatre said...

Smart Users:
- don't misplace their applications and documents; hence don't require indexing tools to find them
- organize code in well-named packages so that they don't have to 'hunt' for it (I believe packages/namespaces are provided/engineered into almost every language for precisely that reason)
- build a reference of bookmarks to start a good search from and resort to googling only when they're unsure of exactly what they're looking for
- keep hierarchies flat enough not to require too much context to traverse

'Comprehensive organization *of everything* is expensive and time consuming' and end up with results like 42!

'Lightweight, deferred organization is' *effective* when search is cheaper than organization; you'll never search for the footer of a page because you know it is *always* 'organized' to be at the bottom.

'Just Ask Around' if you want to get opinions; well-organized reference information ( still commands value.

Let us avoid the extremes and adapt to context; that is, after all, what Darwinism is all about!

Sriram said...


Your 'Smart Users' seem to belong to the school of "Prevention is always better than cure" even if the cost and effort of cure is much less than the cost and effort of prevention.

>>Let us avoid extremes

By all means. I have stated "Good organization is Key" to be the fallacy, not "Good organization is useful."

Nick Milton said...

The key is to present the information in the way the USER will most easily and naturally find it. There is no other key

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