Little Knowledge Management is the Next Big Thing

tagBack in September of 2008 I mentioned this idea of “little KM” in a post called “Micro-blogging in your law firm?.” There, I wrote: little KM is about “how” and big KM is about “what.”  Little KM helps people find the big KM.

The Small Stuff. By little KM, I mean meta data; but not the hierarchical, taxonomic stuff of older KM approaches.  It’s not about asking your lawyers to profile, or select prescribed meta data, for their documents when saving them in a document management system.  Rather, little KM is about on-the-fly, user-generated tagging, commenting, and rating.  Little KM is also about self interest; and that’s important.

Little KM is not substantive.  It points or directs people to the substantive stuff (the big KM).  For example, if a lawyer tags a document with “best practice” or “model” it will probably indicate to others that someone thinks highly of that document.  The same is true if a rating system (e.g., five stars, or “thumbs up”) is employed.  Comments can also be helpful to note attributes of a document that are not immediately evident from the contents.  For example, a lawyer may comment that a particular transactional document is favorable to a buyer, rather than a seller.  That can help someone more quickly decide which among several documents to review when working on a new matter.

Self Interest. Altruism may be alive and well, but for the most part, we do things to help ourselves, personally.  The good thing is that with little KM, the side effect is that it also helps others.  When someone tags, comments on, or rates a piece of content (presumably to help themselves find, or make sense of, it later) others get the benefit of that person’s efforts.  This is not to say, of course, that such selfless activities shouldn’t be encouraged.  But, unless people see the personal value of using little KM, it won’t become all that it could.

Low Impact. For little KM to be helpful and effective, it must be easy to use and part of one’s workflow.  If a lawyer must open a new application to tag or rate a document in a work product retrieval system, then it will seldom happen.  Think of the online social bookmarking site Delicious.  It allows you to bookmark websites and tag them with keywords.


The most effective way to use Delicious is not to add URLs on the Delicious website, but rather to use a web browser toolbar button (see above) that allows you to tag your current website.  Here is a Common Craft video that shows how to use Delicious.

In the same way, little KM features inside your firm need to be easy to use.  If they’re not, they will surely fail.

Is your firm using little KM?  Do you have systems that allow lawyers to tag, comment, and rate the big KM?

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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4 thoughts on “Little Knowledge Management is the Next Big Thing

  • June 1, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Fantastic post Lawyer KM. This is what the next generation web is all about: relevance and remembrance. By tagging, rating, and commenting under a single profile (user identity), I want the web to remember what I mean when I search for a term – it should learn who I am and what I want to see. Google does this so-so right now with the “move result to front” feature on their search engine. Features like this help the web remember what I want to see and produce more relevant results next time. For the attorney who has precious little time to filter through the same bad results over and over again, relying on colleague tagging and rating can be a real time saver.

  • June 1, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Great article. It is something I am pushing for a lot here…although I am calling it PKM. I agree that the ability to see the personal value of KM activities is the key to success.

  • June 1, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I like how you’ve linked the ideas of social tagging and social networking here–both of these could help the KM goal of pointing people towards the “good stuff,” the Big KM.

    I also completely agree with you that tagging must be doable in the work flow and feeds off a user’s self-interest in making it easier to refind stuff.

    An effective tagging system needs to be able to uncover not just what tags have been applied, but who applied them. Then tags become one more way of identifying interest and expertise.

    On the corporate side, Velocity 6.0 and its former law firm equivalent, Interwoven Universal Search, had social tagging designed to be applied at the search screen result, with full pivoting on user tags possible.

    I’ve blogged about social tagging a fair amount. The link to that group of posts is:

    We don’t have social tagging at my firm. With the exception of one Candadian firm that uses wikis as their DMS, I haven’t heard of any firm actually rolling out social tagging (through IUS) although I know another Canadian firm that has the capability to do so right now.

  • June 1, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The solution to having too much information is, surprisingly, more information.

    For law firms, that means a better document management system. One that incorporates some of the great lessons we have learned in Web 2.0. Too much of the DMS is an undifferentiated mass of documents. Folders are no solution if the folder is not incorporated back into the retrieval and information about the document.

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