I have argued consistently, if perhaps not convincingly, in this chapter and throughout this text, that human communications is critical to making progress within the software development process and across a broad array of emerging technologies, including KM. The following text explores examples of technologies that have the lofty goal of incorporating the human factor as a principle component of the solution. These technologies are in early stages of development and are not, to my knowledge, available commercially at this time. That said they do provide us a glimpse of the possibilities.
Both examples happen to come from research being conducted at IBM, although research along similar lines is being conducted at other major U.S. corporations (e.g. Microsoft).
Babble is an online conversation environment that provides a forum for capturing and using knowledge in a manner that makes visible the actors involved in the process. The goal is to capture knowledge in a discourse base, as opposed to a database, while at the same time capturing the social context that guides, informs, and underpins the knowledge store.
Imagine a knowledge management system that was designed from a social perspective, a system predicated on the assumption that knowledge is rooted in a social context. Such a system would assume that knowledge is produced within, and dispersed among, a network of people; that only a small proportion of knowledge is captured in concrete form; that knowledge sharing involves social factors like relationships, trust, obligation, and reputation.
Babble captures both synchronous (i.e. real time chat) and asynchronous conversations. In addition “social proxies” capture the manner in which individuals interact within a specific conversational topic. The system has been deployed by a number of groups within IBM and the subsequent analysis of group behavior has led to some interesting findings including improved trust and better relationships (work and otherwise) among group members.
Through our work on Babble we have begun to create an infrastructure that can support rich forms of social interaction. We have found that social proxies are a promising development, and we continue to be impressed with the power of plain text as a means of supporting interactions that are both complex and subtle.
Babble is an example of social computing that contains many seeds that are likely to yield significant fruit as we progress toward a more human centric computing universe. I have done the authors a gross injustice with such an abbreviated description of their work. I would encourage the interested reader to review the IBM Systems Journal, as documented in the End Notes, for a more complete treatment of the subject.