John Doerr on a Segway
Monday, December 3, 2001 by Dave Winer.
In February when I wrote a piece called John Doerr on a Bicycle, little did I realize that Doerr was already hatching one of the most skillful rollouts in history -- Dean Kamen's Segway, formerly known as Ginger, or It.
I've read reports in Time and the NY Times, and I totally want one of these, or at least a demo, soon. Is $3000 too much? Of course not. I've got my checkbook out. And how long will it be before John is riding a Segway down the street? Hopefully very soon.
Now back on the farm we're still plugging away on the decentralized Internet, Web publishing on the desktop, and now with a new twist, we'll try to make concrete one of the most nebulous terms in computer science -- Knowledge Management.
Imagine you work on a development team, or at a consulting firm, an accountancy, law firm, or advertising agency. In the 80s we called these people Knowledge Workers. These were the people we made computers and software for.
First we gave them spreadsheets, word processors, databases, outliners, presentation programs, then email, instant messaging and the Web. What did they use these tools for? To communicate, but the trail they left behind, a collection of files and folders on each user's disk, was largely unusable because the tools for finding things they left behind were so primitive. However that didn't stop people from creating volumes of knowledge, but in the back of our minds was the nagging belief that somehow all this knowledge wasn't being used well enough.
So, with that context, Knowledge Management is the process, philosophy or goal of making good use of knowledge. We've been discussing this on Scripting News, and the first bit of pushback that came was "That's what technical writers are for," but I don't agree. So much of what we do is written, even people who aren't professional writers. I run a small development team, and when we're in the endgame of a product ship, as we are now, most of what we do is writing. There's a lot of coordinating to do, lots of checking assumptions, and these days, all of that work is written and communicated electronically.
An example, on Saturday I wrote a 6-step plan, it took about twelve hours from concept to sign-off. All writing. Yesterday I started writing the code. Lots more writing as I documented the steps, all the changes I made so people on the devteam know what to expect. Would a docs writer, working on a user's manual six months from now find this narrative useful? Without a doubt.
Knowledge Management is the art of making knowledge useful using computer technology. Now that it's not a buzzword for me, I realize that it's been a goal of mine and (flipped around) a source of frustration, for many years. We have these fantastic tools for generating volumes of writing, but what good use is all that writing long-term? That's the next challenge.