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.

delicious-toolbar

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

SearchWiki from Google: a step in the right direction, but nothing new

Summary: While Google’s new SearchWiki won’t be an immediate benefit to lawyers, it may help them understand the value of commenting on and promoting content, which may lead them to want the same functionality inside the law firm.

Google announced SearchWiki on November 20, 2008. Simply put, SearchWiki is not a wiki. It is an add-on to the standard Google search function that allows you to mark search results as favorites and make a free-form comments about the results.

How it works. After performing a Google search, you’ll notice that there are three new icons near each result: (1) “Promote” – a box with an arrow pointing up to a horizontal line, used to mark a search result as a personal favorite (2) “Remove” – a box with an X, used to remove the result from your (but not other’s) future search results and (3) “Comment” – used to make personal comments, that you and others can see, about the search result.

Google SearchWiki icons

Google SearchWiki icons

After promoting or commenting on a search result, that web page will rise to the top of your future search results for the same search or other search phrases that include the result.

Nothing new. SearchWiki is nothing new, and I wonder just how useful it will be. Other web search engines have done it before: see my post on Scour (a.k.a Aftervote), which has similar promote, demote, and commenting features. The problem with these feature-rich non-Google search tools, like Scour, is that they are not Google. It is far more likely that people will use and enjoy new features in Google than to use a lesser-known substitute, like Scour.

SearchWiki also allows you to see how many other people have promoted, removed, and commented on a search result. Just go to the bottom of a search result page and click the link that says “See all notes for this SearchWiki.” (You can also see all of your own SearchWiki notes and add a result to the search if you did not see what you were looking for – OK this may be helpful.)

searchwiki-other-features

See other people's SearchWiki comments

In the example below, search results for “Obama,” there are 296 notes. Among those, the first result indicates that 103 people promoted it, 15 removed it, and 37 commented on it. Google says that the changes that you make only affect your own search results, but it is unclear if a significant number of promotions and comments alter (or will in the future alter) the search result ranking for everyone.

Google SearchWiki results for "Obama"

Google SearchWiki results for "Obama"

What does this mean for law firms? Other than being a nifty way to enhance your Web searches, what’s the impact on law firms? Well, as for Google’s offering, not much. But there are enterprise-class offerings that give you similar features. And these features in the enterprise are more than just nifty — they can be downright helpful; making it easier for lawyers to find the high-quality internal content that they need.

Apply the SearchWiki concepts to the content of the various systems in your law firm and things get interesting. You could promote, demote, and comment on documents in your document management system. But, to make it really useful, the user activity would need to affect other user’s searches. This would help separate the really good work product from the so-so work product — in a decentralized, “democratic” way, as opposed to the single-gate-keeper approach to managing content.

Interwoven Universal Search (IUS) does all that Google’s SearchWiki does, and more – but rather than applied

Interwoven

Interwoven

to the Web, it works with your firm’s internal documents and other content. IUS allows users to promote and demote content (either through a star ranking system or a thumbs up/down procedure), and make comments. Comments are key because they allow lawyers to learn aspects of documents that cannot otherwise be ascertained from the documents themselves. For example, agreements never indicate, in their four corners, whether they are favorable to one party or another; a comment about an agreement can indicate this type of valuable information.

IUS goes further than SearchWiki by allowing tagging of content for quick, easy, and personalized classification. Users of the popular social tagging website Delicious will appreciate the utility of this feature. Finally, IUS allows users to save search results into virtual folders. This is handy if you want to make a personal collection of favorite documents, but still make them accessible to the rest of the lawyers in your firm.

So, while Google’s new SearchWiki may not have an immediate impact on the way lawyers think about managing their content, it may be a step in the right direction. If lawyers become familiar with promoting and commenting on web content, soon they may want to be able to do it with their internal content, as well. It’s yet another example of how consumer-based web tools are shaping the way law firms learn from, and take advantage of, innovative new technologies.

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

Legal Aspects of Collaboration Tools (Blogs, Wikis, etc.) (from ILTA)

ILTA – August 27, 2008 9:00 am

These are my notes from the program. [Since I am taking paper-free notes and because there is free Wi-Fi here, I thought that I’d add the notes to the blog. Disclaimer: my notes are rough, so forgive the typos.]

From ILTA:

Title: Legal Aspects of Collaboration Tools (Blogs, Wikis, MashUps, IM, Text Messages, Social Networks and More)
Description: Collaboration technologies help promote information sharing, efficiency, cost reduction and can provide competitive advantages. How does the legal environment deal with the information overload and the security of confidential information escaping the realm of the organization? What aspects of legal information need to be considered to help determine how collaboration tools should be utilized in the legal world (and when they should not)? What policies must be in place to protect the shared information?

Speaker(s): Tom Mighell – Cowles & Thompson, P.C.
Dennis Kennedy – MasterCard Worldwide

LawyerKM’s notes:

  • See my notes from yesterday’s presentation
  • Collaboration is no longer an option.
  • Web tools are moving beyond email.
  • News and communication:
    Blogs –
    IM –
    Twitter –
  • Working together:
    Documents – drafts & revisions: the old way was redlining.
    Conferencing – scheduling is a major difficulty and very time consuming.
    Wikis –
  • Web 2.0
    1.0 – focus was getting all the info online – no interaction
    2.0 – making the info available to people in more interesting, interactive ways (e.g. Google Maps, Mashups); moving to user-generated content (e.g., wikis and blogs); software as a service (SAAS); cloud computing.
    e.g., Yelp, Delicious, social networking tools, Facebook and LinkedIn are the main players.
    Martindale-Hubbell is testing their own social network (should be coming out in the next couple of months.
    Mashups – SharePoint can be used to mashup information
    Google Sites – allows you to make a mini portal platform on the web
  • The benefits of collaboration:
    1. taking an active role
    2. enhancing the workflow
    3. getting better results
  • Potential Problems of collaboration:
    1. Loss of control – lawyers are tought that they should control the draft and the drafting proscess. Collaborative drafting (like with Google Docs) can take away this feeling of control, blog comments and wikis also may contribute to the feeling of loss of control. Internal vs. external storage (many lawyers are not comfortable with their data on external servers) there is also the issue of down time of third-party systems.
    2. Security – because you are going outside the firewall, there is a concern. You are potentialll opening up multiple points of compromise.
    3. Ethics – need to be a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities. There have not been many ethics decisions about technology. None were cited about collaboration. Is encryption mandatory? Metadata – one state has found that lawyers should have knowledge that metadata exists in their documents.
  • The Balance between riks and benefits:
    1. Cultural – what is the tolerance for risk at your firm? Balanced scorecard, risk-reward framework.
    2. Costs – many of these tools are free – so lawyers might be inclined to try it out. But, some of those tools may be risky. Hidden costs – free tools have implimentation issues [and what about ads in Gmail].
    3. Portfolio approach – is an economic portfolio approach right (i.e., having a diversified portfolio)? Check out some of the collaboration tools.
  • Defining and Implementing Appropriate Policies:
    1. channel appropriate behaviors – lawyers are good at finding work-arounds when they can’t get what they need.
    2. keeping control – policies, procedures, processes – need some sort of formality to it. Very few people in the audience have any sort of policies or procedures that cover collaboration tools.
    3. security and ethical concers – #1 is confidentiality; different levels of access, authority are key to this.
  • Looking into the Future
    1. recent devlopments – since the cost of travel is high, there is/will be an increase in online collaboration.
    2. trends – web2.0 is becoming more common and people are willing to explore
    3. predicions – clients will drive this (if they want it, lawyers will provide it) video will be bigger in the future
  • Conclusions:
    1. keep current – read blogs [like LawyerKM!]
    2. action steps – find your firms policies; look at the tools that you use; think about the issues that arise with the tools that you use.

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

Help Me Help You: Social Media in Your Law Firm | Knowledge Management

Common Crafts new video, Social Media in Plain English, really emphasizes how a lot of this new-fangled social technology (esp. tagging, commenting, and voting) is really nothing new, and nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a twist on the old way (and often better and more effective way) to do things. It’s not appropriate for every aspect of the way lawyers work, but it can be helpful in many respects. (post continued below video)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpIOClX1jPE&hl=en]

(See other LawyerKM Common Craft stuff here)

Allowing comments on model documents in your precedent repository (or DMS – see e.g., Interwoven) can add a perspective–and value–that the author or the KM staff or your PSLs did not initially recognize. For example, you may have added a particular sample because it is a good example of a certain kind of brief related to a particular industry. And that’s the way the KM staff described it in the “official” description in your KM system. But a non-KM user (i.e., a practicing lawyer) may think that it’s a good example not because of the industry to which it is related, but because of the nature of the litigants (e.g., limited liability company vs. professional corporation) – a piece of meta data that’s not likely to be part of your official taxonomy.

As we all have come to accept, meta data is important to the ability to locate the information we need. But don’t forget about user-created meta data (tags, comments, votes, etc.). KM folks may think we know what’s important to the lawyers we support (and much of the time, we do), but those lawyers know what’s important to them. So, why not allow them to help us learn? Sort of “Help me help you…” but I suspect that your lawyers won’t be begging you with as much desperation as Tom begs Cuba.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-oHuogx6_Y&hl=en]

So, don’t be afraid. Maybe we should call it “Business Media” instead of “Social Media.”

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

Social Tagging 2.0 (Semantic Tagging) | Knowledge Management

Seeing that social tagging is already considered a web 2.0 thing, I probably should have called this post “Social Tagging 3.0” – especially because it involves semantic tagging. However, I had to balance the probable accuracy of the title with the probability that my readers would bash me for using the term “3.0.” So forget I even wrote it (even though some people associate Web 3.0 with the Semantic Web).

This is about a new semantic social tagging application called Faviki. It works like this: Add a Faviki toolbar link to your browser’s toolbar; when you are on a web page that you want to tag, click the Faviki link and instead of adding any old tag you want, Faviki will suggest tags instead. The killer feature is that unlike other tagging services (like Del.ici.ous), suggestions don’t just come from the way other users have tagged things. Rather, the suggested tags come from structured information extracted from the Wikipedia database. Of course, if there are no appropriate tags suggested, you can add your own. ReadWriteWeb (one of my favorite web sites) has a nice write up about Faviki. See the screen shot below (the Faviki tagging tool is in the upper right hand corner) – Click to enlarge. Post continued below image…

I like this because it’s sort of “guided tagging” and it promotes consistency. One fear in law firms (or any company for that matter) is that there will be wild and inconsistent tagging of content. This is often cited as a reason to disallow social tagging. Semantic tagging helps overcome this. It is sort of a balance between the “do-whatever-you-want” idea of folksonomies and the “my-way-or-the-highway” constraints of traditional taxonomies. Of course, the burning question of whether lawyers will tag content (whether it’s semantic tagging or not) still lingers. Perhaps the idea that self-interest will drive users to tag (as Ron Friedmann suggests) is correct. One thing is for sure: Attorney 2.0 will be willing to (and will expect to be able to) tag content.

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