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Email as the Most Used And Worst Method of “Knowledge Management”

Email is the communication norm. It is no more special than the phone. But it is the worst way to manage information over time or the “KM” buzzword (which by the way I have never understood— “mamaging knowledge”, it sounds like managing “wisdom” or quantifying ethics or s snipe hunt).

I have noticed recently, in our system, that there are 2, 3, maybe event 10 messages a day that float around announcing some workshop, or an art exhibition, or a special speaker, or a performance- and usually is some monstrous graphic or HTML super-soaked giant message. Announcing things via email is very appropriate, but for the most part, this is the only ever electronic record of these events.

E-mail is about the worst archiver and inefficient means of managing information. The worst. The half life of an email message is maybe 8 hours once it scrolls down the inbox, and falls off rapidly once the system auto deleted aged messages. While your email software can search messages, it all depends on how you manage your mailbox. For the most part, it is gone once read, unless you are anal about searching, or are turning your hard drive over to Microsoft or Google to manage.

My unscientific experience is that information in email is pretty much depreciating at a geometric rate:

Oh yes, sometime last March (or was it Februrary), Smithers sent me that outline of a project idea…. let’s comb through my saved messages… is it in my “ideas” folder, maybe it is in “projects” or is it in the “to do folder” or did I even remember to move it into a folder??)

Once again I am flummoxed (this is my word of the day) why all this effort to create gorgeous JPG email images or complex HTML messages, are not posting them on a web site, even if it is in addition to what gets blasted out to the system wide distribution list. I’ve hammered our office over the years that most everything that is created in print or email to support and event or a project should be considered to have an online version as well, if only to have an archive of these things.

Email provides none of that.

There are those that even go beyond that and suggest that RSS is a passe means of accessing information to an Instant Messaging generation. I do not buy that either, but to that author, email is your grandmother’s internet.

I’ve written before about “email attachment disorder” which still runs rampant. I gets lots of notices of meetings where the subject line says “Agenda” or “notes” and the only thing is a Word document, calling for yet another step to get at what is dominantly text information.

And by the way, my complaints about our Innovation program described in that February message have hit home… our office has been asked to run this program. My beef with the way it was run is that the intent is to highlight innovation in our system (good intent), but the process is that individuals submit applications to their college reps (“hand in a MS Word doc on a 3.5″ floppy PC formatted disk”), and the college runs a process to determine a single college winner. From there, and overall project is deemed “Innovation of the Year”.

When I looked at this, I saw, perhaps 10 innovations submitted per college, so a program which highlighted 11 innovations (10 colleges of them plus one from our District Office), could be actually hiding 99 runners up (11 sites x 10 innovations – 11 identified winners), so this program actually masks more innovations that it reveals. That seemed counter intuitive.

My modest proposal last year was that applicants could submit that same Word document as an attachment to an Maricopa Learning eXchange (MLX) package, so that all nominated projects would be made public. That idea was ignored. It was kind of ironic as the MLX was the District Office winner the previous year.

I am not sure if they will let me change the process this year, but now it is in our hands.

Okay, this two part tirade is over. I hear over and over again about people not people able to “keep up” with technology or not having enough time, a “print mentality”, “this is the way we have always done things”, but I see swirling around me wasteful practices and more examples of things which do not leverage the capability of current technology.

Don;t get me wrong, I love email, I have an addiction, and I depend on it on a daily basis for communication– but it is not my reliable source of content, information.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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