Thursday, September 30, 2004

The potential of Furl and tools like it in an organization's KM initiatives

I really like Furl. It's not just that I can save Webpages with comments and come back to them later. That part is great, and the software's benefits as a personal knowledge management tool are important.

But what gives the software its real potential is what I call the zeitgeist effect. On any day, you can go to the Furl homepage and find out what articles and Webpages are being saved by the most users. So, for instance, today I see that the most popular items are:

What the Bubble Got Right, furled by 34 members
The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities, furled by 18 members
Bush's Top Ten Flip-Flops, furled by 16 members
The 25 most difficult questions, furled by 16 members
TiddlyWiki - a reusable non-linear personal web notebook, furled by 15 members
Those Dark Hiding Places: The Invisible Web Revealed,furled by 13 members
...and more

So I can see not only the general issues that people are interested in today (politics, computers), but specifically what people are reading. Granted, these numbers are still low as the tool gains users. It's only been in operation for the past 9 months, so people are still finding out about it.

But I'm fascinated by the way a personal KM tool, by aggregating information, becomes a generalized KM tool. I can see what interests other people. And I often find out about articles that I missed this way. For instance, today there was a great set of resources on learning theories that was Furled by 8 people. I wouldn't have known about it had I not checked the list of popular articles today.

Social networking meets knowledge management in a way that's similar to blogging, except that the process can be as simple or as involved as the person wants. You can Furl something with two clicks of your mouse if you want, or you can take more time and add a category, rating, and comments.

Knowledge management software has long faced the problem of people having to take time to input information. With Furl, simply by hitting a Furl it! button on the browser and then the Save button, a person indicates the information's importance and then the info is automatically added to the collection.

What if Furl sold software that was specific to organizations? Then it would have some real KM power. I could go onto the tool and see what articles, resources, experts, etc. were Furled by my colleagues at my company. (It would be great if you could Furl a Word document or an email, or even an expert in an expert management system.)

The more restricted the use of the tool, the more relevant the info would be to me. So maybe there would be levels: one list would show me what was Furled by people at my company; another list would show by people in my business unit or department. The resources and articles could come from the Web in general or from my company's intranet, or even a specific person's own documents and emails on his or her computer. The more that people include comments or ratings, the more the KM power is increased. But the tool is still plenty useful without that, because of the way it aggregates information.

Furl also offers the ability to subscribe to a particular person's archive. That would be helpful as an expert management-type feature. For example, if you'll be working on a project about purple monkeys and you don't know anything about them, you could subscribe to the archive of someone in your company who works with purple monkeys regularly. Then you could see what information is interesting him and learn from his learning process.

Want to subscribe to my Furl archive? Feel free. I save pages for this blog's Best of the week, Learning Circuits's Try It column, T+D's Intelligence column, and various other personal interests. Go to Other's Archives once you've logged in to your account and enter in ekaplan for username. You'll be able to see in advance what I may be writing about in the future. (Note that I don't write about everything I save--I cull through later.)

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