Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lynda Moulton on Social Search

It feels like there has been a tremendous crunch on my time since roughly mid-November. With the holidays approaching I am finally getting around to revving up some posts on this blog again, and clearing out some discussions that I have been saving up for a while.

I attended (in person) Lynda Moulton's talk introducing business motivators for social search , part of Vivisimo's Velocity 6.0 Boston event in Boston that I posted about earlier. Lynda's talk was quite dense but provided a "knowledge management" take on this collaborative technology; that is, she explained in terms familiar to knowledge practitioners the reasons why social search provides such an advantage over search without social context.

Lynda posted on the session as well.

Why does social search help?

Under the knowledge management concepts of "trust and validation," people will use most and seek to find content (such as a prior brief of a litigation expert) that has been validated by someone they trust. The extent of someone's trust in content is based on the content's expertise, authority, and affiliation as well the seeker's professional and personal relationships with the source or "voucher" of the content.

Seeking the company of others with similar business challenges is an existing, sound KM model for "bringing more to your work." Meeting in a trusting spirit and participating in sharing is known as a great way to get more out of content and your business.

How Does Social Search Help?

There are several different styles or methods of knowledge sharing.

  • Informing--reflected by commentary and analysis

  • Visualizing--done by dashboards, clustering

  • Demonstrating--reflected in clustering and federating

  • Expository--done by annotating and tagging

Together these tools play to our inclination to be self-sufficient with our technologies (and these tools work together in a social search enterprise tool). The human touch has much to offer clarity of knowledge. People are willing to engage in knowledge sharing when in fits in their workflow. You have to have early adopters, enthusaistic self-starters, and sharers. Once they demonstrate to others, it becomes contagious. Being able to see how others view a set of content, without having to ask them, is a new way of looking. We expect social search to play a strong role in organizing activities and work, at many levels.

              • for communities of practice--organize people
              • for domains--organize content repositories
              • for content--organize search targets, be they documents, video, web pages, or people's expertise
              • for clusters--organize content groupings
              • for tags--social tagging has no controlled vocabulary, metatagging is controlled.

              Can social search "transform behaviors into business wins"?

              Social search has the potential to elevate search discoveries into teaching moments:

              • it can leverage lost assets
              • it can save others time by placing discoveries in view with notations
              • nuggets of information can place content in context.
              (This is really important because context is the bane of the legal work product searcher's existence--you need to know what how the document's litigation / deal / transaction context differs from yours in evaluating whether to use a sample or form).

              Because of people's demand for trust, who was associated with a document can be just as important as what it is. (to provide an example, the brief on an evidentiary point authored by a partner noted for his learning on the subject is infinitely more valued than the one-off memo of the summer associate).

              Leveraging your network can save you time--annotating what you learn as you learn it increases your own understanding and that of others as well.

              Clustering has the effect of revealing relevant content no matter how you search for it.

              Tagging can prevent the "second fire drill."

              Benefits of these social behaviors accrue over time.

              Social Search Adapts Content To The Culture Of Organization

              Social search moves the content into an organization that members of a common culture understand.

              For instance, the pharmaceuticals industry is highly technical, with strong demand for efficiency, and its teams are made up of professionals with advanced degrees (I think Lynda suggested that taggers and annotations in this culture can afford to be quite technical and not intelligible to those without a Ph.D in biology.)

              In media, content is multi-media, poorly labeled. Teams are highly collaborative, and need in-depth and accurate fact-finding.

              Financial services pushes tens of thousands of products and funds out to its millions of customers. Customers have a wide variety of sophistication. Customers are also trading partners.

              Perhaps more collaboration and knowledge sharing in the defense industry would have led to a lower priced toilet seat.

              Recommendations For Social Search Projects

              Lynda recommended that a social search project needed to start with some questions about an organization's content:

              What are our most important knowledge assets?

              Could we benefit from collaboration?

              Why would content sharing get to better business processes?

              Lynda had several recommendations for implementation of any social search.

              • Build a map of who works and what content they use (I don't see how this is any kind of prerequisite for implementation of social search. Part of the idea is to let people build thier own maps of the content they use and see how they fit with others' maps).
              • Find teams with early adopter attitudes and with serious information gathering challenges;
              • Get a vision, a target that will give an edge;
              • Get a bunch of wins;
              • Communicate the outcomes and plan for the next; and,
              • Don't expect technology to solve the problem.
              You will need people who understand content and content architecture, especially on teams that might otherwise be skeptical.


              A woman in the audience asked if metrics for proving success are different with social search? Lynda suggested that the best metrics are stories. Search logs can also be a good source of success proof. You can set up a system where the expectation of how it is supposed to work is conveyed up front.

              ( I don't find this satisfactory--can't you look at amount of content, ranking, annotations contributed, to develop metrics and establish a return on investment? Another way to establish success would be to conduct pre-and post-rollout surveys of people's satisfaction with their ability to find stuff. The hazard there would be conducting the survey too soon since the value of this type of search would increase dramatically after people had been contributing content for a while).

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