''Knowledge on the road'' is partly about how a highly distributed organization like the one I work for, can use community software to enhance both service delivery as well as make life better for people on the road. By ''highly distributed'' I basically mean a professional services organization whose members by and large work on their own at client sites. This is especially common in post sales consulting organizations. The premise of this post is that this kind of organization faces a simple but huge learning / knowledge management hurdle: distance. This is hardly necessary to say but I think that the distance's impact on a learning organization hasn't been highlighted.
My experience tells me that one of the effects that distance has on us ist that is changes the way we communicate. I have observed that distance changes the principal direction that communication takes. Instead of being mostly horizontal (peer to peer) as it is for a non-distributed group, a highly distributed group mostly communicates vertically to management and administration. It is just too hard to do peer communication. We already get enough email, and email blasts are instrusive and tend to degenerate quickly and are headache, we're in different timezones so we don't often chat over the phone. There just isn't a lot of opportunity for peer to peer interaction.
For this reason, communication patterns emerge that focus on communication back to head office and admin but not to each other as peers. Personal publishing/weblogging/RSS provides some fundamental tools to spark the peer to peer conversation while still not being instrusive. It provides an opportunity to collaborate in ways that might not be possible otherwise. It also is an incredibly good tool for making knowledge contagious ... and Blogging has gone corporate. This is a good thing.
Going corporate basically means it is being used in two main ways. First, type A marketing folks are all over this. Its is an opporunity for Microsoft, Google, Apple, Disney, you name them, to put a human face on the company. So, unofficial / official blogs have sprung up where company employees can give the world their perspective on life inside these organizations. These are incredibly popular. Here is an article about this happening at Microsoft (http://dijest.com/aka/2003/10/08.html). Here is a further link to someone advocating this angle (http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/archives/001437.shtml#comments). That article has a lot of jumping off spots regarding using bloggin in this way.
OK, so thats the marketing angle, the other is the intranet & knoweldge management angle or weblogs behind the firewall, free from the public's prying eyes. In order to understand why this is so significant, we need to review a couple of things about how blogging works.
A person much smarter than me (http://www.mcgeesmusings.net/2003/10/18.html#a3735) said:
''Blogging in organizations = lowering the barriers to expression + lowering the barriers to attention.''
What they are talking about is the interaction between two technologies:
This is essentially personal publishing software. It very often has an offline element to it, in other words you can write when you feel the urge and sync it when you have a good connection. Which is to say it has a server portion, usually plugged into either IIS or Apache and a client portion where the source for the blog lives. When you post to your blog, you run a process on your laptop and the post is pushed up to the server.
RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication ... depending on who you talk to. The idea is that I can "subscribe" to a website (blog) and then as the author posts to it, I receive those articles, usually the full text, in a piece of software called an Aggregator. Its called an Aggregator because it brings all the content of all the website you care about into one view or tool. Webloggers use their aggregators to find much of the content for their own blogs ... ie so and so said x about y and here is why I agree or disagree etc. To get an idea about what aggregators are all about look here (http://www.ojr.org/ojr/lasica/1043362624.php) for a list of the available aggregators look here (http://www.hebig.org/blogs/archives/main/000877.php).
I think that this combination of publish and subscribe technologies starts to restore some of the missing 'watercooler talk' that is so important to establishing peer to peer communication channels in a highly distributed group. The impact is that slowly the direction that communication channels take slowly becomes more democratized, more peer to peer as everyone becomes both a publisher and a subscriber. It doesn't have to up the ladder and then down, it is available across the organization. I think that it is the direction angle where weblogging and RSS can really have a tremendous impact for a distributed organization.