Is There Garbage Floating in Your Ocean of Knowledge? Reader Beware




It has been weeks since I blogged, or even Tweeted on a regular basis. Where have I been?  Dan and I are on the road, consulting on a very complex, grand and most interesting ECM project.  A Fortune 100 company that remains successful and growing in spite of the economy, has managed to achieve such greatness without benefit of a formal Information Architecture and ECM strategy. This project has been the focus of our time and attention of late.  The challenge is great and the potential opportunity huge.

We are dealing with a large and diverse collection of content in various stages of maturity, quality,  accuracy and accessibility. The organization readily realizes that years of ad hoc, manual and individual approaches to content management have resulted in a nearly chaotic collection of content and processes. Many issues exist, from a need for enterprise search and a centralized taxonomy, to strategies for content distribution. But a fundamental issue is the state of the collection of content itself.

Among the many repositories, valuable content resides amongst  dated, ambiguous, unapproved and at times contradictory content. A critical decision has been made to clean up the content repositories before addressing findability. The merit of beginning with the establishment of search and taxonomy, under a series of UIs, and using these to expedite the discovery of dated and inaccurate content and subsequently deleting it was debated, but a fundamental decision was made not to expose users to the “garbage”, but rather, first authenticate and clean up the content and subsequently use the findability tools to expose an “official body of quality content.”

But I am not blogging today simply to relay this experience.  While deep in thought about this situation, I heard a news story that brought this decision point to mind, and ignited in me a chance to blog about the BP oil “spill”.  (Hey its not a spill –  it’s an underwater gusher. Let’s call it what it is.)

Despite many strong opinions about this disaster, I have refrained from blogging about it because the charter of my blog is ECM.  Last week’s news, however, gave me my excuse to express opinion about this disaster, ala ECM.  BP is using a form of ECM and Web 2.0 to control public opinion. They have hired “reporters” to write about the “spill” from a “more positive” perspective. These “reporters” are using phrases to describe their experience watching the clean up effort such as: “…enjoyed the spectacular ballet at sea… dolphins swimming around us. Even a shark came along to watch the show.” (Watch the show? Try struggle to survive, in disgust?  And what’s with “ballet?”).  They have also reported that “… hotels have been prospering because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams.”  According to other independent, i.e non-BP owned sources, this is simply not true and the local tourist trade is seriously hurting.

I keep my outrage and disgust about this entire situation in check – the point I want to raise here is this, if left unchecked and un-managed,  garbage such as this could potentially be retrieved as “fact.”  Content authentication and source identification are critical to a comprehensive ECM strategy.

Internet and intranet sites alike have the potential to provide access to a wealth of content, but can contain “garbage” among the “jewels”,  garbage as rank and lethal as the oil “spill” itself. (OK I snuck that in.)

Consumers of content need to be diligent in filtering garbage from “fact”, or be assured, as is the case with our client going forward, that systems are in place to control publication.  I am not advocating censorship, but ECM systems need to provide some approach to quality control, tailored to the scope and needs of individual situations. Fact checking,  authority and credentials of authors, and/or providing clear and blatant identification of authorship are all steps that can be taken to at least let the reader decide what is content and what is “garbage”.

In an earlier blog post, I directly addressed the need to authenticate content – of all types. As an issue  fundamentally critical to any and all collections of content – especially those that are “findable.”

In another earlier post I commented on the irony of bloggers who were “unhappy” with a regulation that compelled them to disclose any affiliations or gifts they  received in connection with their blog writing.

I have to say that at least in the case of BP, authors are identified as “BP Reporters”. So at least the potential is there for the reader to use a garbage filter on the consumption of content. – In the absence of content quality controls, such as those being implemented by my client, readers must beware.

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“Dan conducted a workshop on taxonomy development and maintenance and I found him to very knowledgeable about the subject. He was able to use real world examples to help his audience understand the concepts he was trying to convey.”
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