Hubert’s error

February 10, 2007

As referenced earlier I was disturbed by a couple of comments by Hubert Saint-Onge at the end of his presentation when we were together in Dallas, to wit:

  1. That Blogs and Wikis are publishing tools not collaboration tools, and in the case of blogs the publishing is individualistic/egotistical.
  2. That an organisation should mandate one tool for collaboration, rather than allowing diversity; but that participation in the use of those tools should be voluntary.

Now he said at the time that this would provoke me, which it has. I promised a response by blog and here it is.

Now I should say that Hubert and I agree far more than we disagree. We had an enjoyable series of conversations at the event, in a taxi and at the airport. I may even have persuaded him to blog, which would be more likely to change his opinion in respect of the first point than any argument I advance. However, respect and friendship aside I think he is fundamentally in error.


  1. The idea that publishing is not knowledge management is easy to dispute. If I write an article, or publish a book to elaborate or explain my perspective, experience or whatever then I am making my knowledge available to a wider audience. In doing so I will reference other peoples material and will be referenced in turn. This is one of the main ways in which knowledge spreads and blogs are simply the latest, and one of the most interesting, ways in which we can share. A blog is no more or less egotistical than any other form of publishing
  2. In a collaboration space (Community of Practice or whatever) people publish material. It may be a document, it may be an opinion or view point. Even in a discussion area they put forward opinions which is a form of publishing. Now there is feedback, challenge and a variety of forms of dialogue and debate within such environments. However the same is true of the blogosphere. If anything more so. If you put forward a position in a blog, then it is open to challenge by trackback, comment or counter post. In putting forward your ideas in a blog you are opening yourself up to a wide critical audience, ready to slap down pretension or poor reasoning.
  3. Blogs are conversations. As you link with other people;’s material, add their blogs to your RSS feed; a community forms. The conversation is asynchronous, but that is also true of most collaboration environments. In effect a blog is far more of a conversation than many a community of practice in that it opens to a wider network, the conversations are less controllable and you are as likely (if not more likely) to be challenged. Ego in a blog finds its own punishment as in any other environment.
  4. In over 15 years of taking part in collaborative spaces I have seen less intimacy, less exchange and less learning than in the six months that I have been writing this blog. You also have to be more careful when you blog than in a closed community; your ideas are exposed to a more critical community.
  5. Blogs represent a bottom up approach to creating a community, as people link and connect across multiple conversations. HTML links transform connectivity and act as a sophisticated form of communication.
  6. A wiki is a more efficient form of knowledge creation than most collaboration environments. I think Hubert needs to spend some time in one. The ability to trace the history of different changes represents an improvement over threaded conversations. Those conversations can also take place in the talk spaces. Having tried to navigate threaded conversations and amendments in various communities, it’s a lot easier in a wiki


  1. The attempt to introduce conformity seems to play to the desire of senior executives for control, and the near autistic need of IT departments for neatness and order. Imagine what they would say if Government mandated that we only drive one type and colour of car.
  2. Mandating a single tool always means a lowest common denominator approach. No one’s needs are fully satisfied, irritations arise, use declines, ad hoc alternatives proliferate.
  3. The argument that a single tool is needed to ensure that people can share knowledge across silos is a nonsense. If you make sure that you use a tool whose database can be open to HTML links, or which can publish material then sharing between different systems is easy. OK you should lay some rules down to ensure interoperability but you do not need to mandate one tool. This may have been true ten years ago but no longer.

In general I think Hubert position is anti-mess which is a pity. Human knowledge is messy not neat and tidy. Knowledge discovery is serendipitous, not planned. It is just not good enough to say that people can volunteer to join centrally determined systems. That is volunteering in the sense of the drill sergeant. It is a lot better to allow order to emerge bottom up from a fairly messy environment. It costs less, it is more likely to work and above all in reflects the way that people naturally work. I previously outlined a naturalising approach to getting started in KM as a part of a long posting on Natural numbers, networks and community towards the end of last year. I have reviewed that and see no reason to change the advice I gave at that time.

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