I’m a big picture kind of woman, and tend to deal in big concepts more than details. So I’ve been thinking about the whole issue of PKM and have reached some conclusions, which, being a blogger, I get to share with you. some of these ideas might get further explored in later posts. Knowledge management, personal knowledge management all arose because there is too much information (TMI) in the world. When people think of earlier centuries, they think that a reasonably well-educated person could know all of then-current knowledge. It was never true, though they might have known a good portion of the scholarship in their region of the world, or their subject. Today it is impossible to know but a fraction of the knowledge even in one’s own discipline. I think we have to acknowledge that no matter what tools we have, or what philosophy of knowledge management we follow, WE CAN’T FIX THIS.

It is bad and getting worse every day. The very name of one large company directly involved in the information biz reflects this, “Eventually, they changed the name to Google, originating from a misspelling of the word “googol”, the number one followed by one hundred zeros, which was picked to signify that the search engine wants to provide large quantities of information for people.” (Wikipedia) The same Wikipedia article gives one measure of the scope of the problem: “Google has been estimated to run over one million servers in data centers around the world, and process over one billion search requests and about twenty-four petabytes of user-generated data every day.” Another fact gleaned from Wikipedia – in 2010, 328,259 new book titles and editions were published in the United States. Since I joined LibraryThing in late 2006, I’ve been trying to keep track of the books I read. According to it, I added 135 entries in 2010, for an average of 11.25 books a month, and for society as a whole I’m a heavy reader.

So is it hopeless? Are we just dreaming the impossible dream (as the Man of La Mancha might sing)? Not quite. As knowledge increases, the better the tools (and in a broad sense, tools include the philosophy of pkm one follows, whether it is Getting Things Done or a competing philosophy) the more we have a chance of keeping up with our chosen slice of knowledge. Disciplines fragment into more and more sub-disciplines in order for someone to have a chance at knowing that area of knowledge well. The tools will get better, which inevitably means that more and more of the processing of information is done by machines. For example, intelligent agents will become better and better at filtering out information so that an individual sees what is the most useful to her. The downside may be that machines don’t think, and they don’t feel, and so they may miss just that needed bit of information to make a great intuitive leap, or to catch all the ethical implications of the knowledge presented.

I draw a couple of conclusions from all of this. One is that I feel librarians may become more important but less valued. When there is so much knowledge, there is more than ever the need to have someone on hand who specializes in finding information and in finding the best information. Yet as things are more online and there are more discovery tools, people think their skills at finding information are better than they are.

So I see librarians turning into what I call Knowledge Navigators. Maybe that’s because that is the primary part of my job now as liaison to three academic departments. To me this means an increased role for librarians, but also an increased role for marketing in order to explain, in the most positive terms possible, why people need us.

The other major conclusion I draw is that some version of the Gaia hypothesis may be correct, that all of Earth is one complex, inter-related system. If so, humanity can be looked on as the organism’s brain, and every individual as a brain cell passing along specific information. Therefore, each of us has particular, unique pieces of information that when combined with everyone else, makes up the collective brain. As an image, this leads us to understanding better why learning networks are so important to connect and give us a platform for connecting all our “brain cells” together. (or individual neurons)

On Adopting New Technology

... big computers!It is amazing how many people are aghast when they discover that I have never owned an:

  • ipod / mp3 player
  • iphone / smart phone
  • ipad / tablet computer
  • e-reader
  • gameboy/misc. gaming device

But I’m still “looking”.  I have identified some key features that I want.  I need something robust enough to handle full featured Office products (not lite versions) AND handle Zimbra (my workplace email application).  I don’t think it will be a smart phone… A flip phone answers my text and verbal messaging needs. And yes, gasp (!), I also still have a home phone landline.  I recently checked again with several fire/police officials and they told me that emergency services still use landlines to achieve best response in times of emergency.  So I hang on to that archaic item as well.

E-readers are too single purpose for me, which was also my opinion of ipods, though I am dismayed that sometimes music production companies are not launching CD albums, but just mp3. I still feel like I’m much more likely to lose or ruin mp3 collections through computer/devise crashes than a similar set of CDs.  Likewise, I sigh upon encountering the novellas, pre-quels, in-between series stories that are released as e-read only. That I resolve with desktop reader applications, though reading via my laptop is not in the least ideal.. I confess that I still like paper books (and audio books I play in my car!) best for recreational reading. I simply don’t get the same feeling of comfort and joy being surrounded by computer files of books instead of a library corner with wall to wall copies of my favorite fictional friends. That being said, nothing beats online search ability and organization when it comes to professional reading.

I think this all ties to one of my key tenants for PKM…. if an application doesn’t meet my needs, it is not going to be a priority for me to spend time (or money) with it, no matter how shiny and appealing it is to my gadget-curious mind.  Instead, I read reviews, watch my friends and co-workers to see how they use their gadgets and bide my time for the device that has the features I most desire.  So far, that still appears to be my laptop with wireless connectivity.  This singular focus of device connectivity allows me to spend my time exploring other tools that will help me right now like Microsoft OneNote, mind/concept mapping tools, and, most recently, WordPress, the tool which has allowed me to create this blog/website which you are reading right now.

I’m also a fan of cloud technology and love the ability to sync applications like OneNote  which lives on my work computer with my laptop version  at home. Web-based bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo have also given me the freedom to capture and retrieve from any location my list of favorite websites and blogs. Cloud Storage tools like DropBox and SkyDrive save me the effort of carrying thumb drives or emailing files to myself.  New technology often vastly improves my workflow processes.  However, as I tell my students in my Productivity Tools workshop, you must weigh the time involved in learning a new tool and identify what difficulties that tool will solve for your current workflow before taking the new technology plunge.

Devices and Desires

We haven’t mentioned the role of devices in PKM much.   In my case, I want to be able to run my PKM applications, but I also have to have a mobile machine on which I can  demonstrate these programs to other people.   Depending on what your needs are, choosing devices to make PKM more seamless can be both easier and more complicated.

Easier, if you are comfortable entering data using smaller screens and more varied modes:  For example, with a cell phone, you can take a photo of a whiteboard or other record of a meeting and share it directly to Evernote without needing to email it, if you have Evernote on your phone (you should have Evernote on your phone).  That’s simple.  On the other hand, I have big fingers and a medium sized phone, and I am not adept at entering text, so I don’t create many new notes using Evernote on my phone – I have to be desperate.  However, I can enter text well enough to search short strings, so I make good use of lists and contacts that I store in Evernote and look at on my phone.

More complicated, because there are so many choices:   You can spend SO much time obsessing over what to get – or even whether now is the time to replace what you have.  Also, since many of us have institutionally issued machines, what do you get yourself, and when, and why? I think I am the only librarian at Kennesaw State with an Android tablet.  The library has issued iPads to many of my colleagues.  I have asked for a Windows 8 tablet, once the software is out and stable, and there are good tablets that run it.  I like tablets I can actually write on with a stylus, and I want something to replace my current, ancient laptop (4 years, I think, and it must weigh 8 lbs in its case, with cords).  I want OneNote on there, as well as Compendium, which is dialog mapping software, and Personal Brain.

The Android tablet I have is an Entourage Edge, produced by a company which went out of business almost as soon as I bought the machine.  Many of the people who still have these are

Entourage Edge

academics – but there are very few of us.  It has 2 screens, the Android on one side and an ebook reader on which you can also take notes with a stylus on the other side.  It closes up like a book – very sturdy.  It runs a version of Android that’s so old I can’t even remember what it is; the company folded well over a year ago.  It’s a great little device for students and professors alike (you can mark up pdfs on the ereader), so the manufacturer marketed it on Home Shopping Network, bringing it out right after the first iPad.  People thought they were getting a bargain iPad, and then returned it in droves.  So it’s good for reading, taking notes in meetings, and web surfing, but not for productivity.

I have been tempted by the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but have finally, reluctantly, decided I don’t need another Android; though the Edge is ancient, it’s a decent ebook reader, and I’ll keep it for now.  Androids, like iPads, just aren’t productivity machines for me at present, and I do need to have something mobile that will run all this PKM software.  So, I am going to wait and look at the (I hope) cool new tablets that will run Windows 8.  What are you all using, or hoping to use?

The 2012 Top 100 Tools for Learning

On Sunday, the voting closes for the Top 100 Tools for Learning for 2012. (vote here!) This list was first compiled by Jane Hart in 2007. Jane is the founder of the excellent Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT). This UK-based site offers a multitude of free resources about learning tools.  All the top 100 Tools lists from 2007 are still available on C4LPT’s web site, as well as links to Jane’s blog, Learning In the Social Workplace and the social learning community, Social Learning Centre , which she co-hosts with Harold Jarche.  While I have personally only scratched the surface in exploring all the global communities of educators and top industry participants here, I have enjoyed several of the free webinars this site produces and took part in one of the first offerings of Harold’s Personal Knowledge Management web course.

I love this top tools list for several reasons.  On the one hand, it is an affirmation to me that we are on the right track with many of the tools that Mary, Elisabeth and I use in our own lives as well as many of the tools we talk about on this blog.  I also love the list because I can see the trends of certain tools and their rise and fall in popularity over time, as well as be introduced to new tools that have been flying under my radar to date.

Don’t just take my word for it, check out the list today.  If you are reading this before Sunday, September 30, VOTE!  Let your choices be known!  If you missed the voting, look to see who made the list.  Did you find something new?  Do you think the list totally missed a major tool?  Let’s get a discussion started!

Evernote: Tuesday Tool Tip

Notebook software is the 300 pound canary of productivity tools. Those who haven’t ever used them can be baffled by the simplicity and vagueness of the concept. “Note-taking software? Why do I need that? I have scrap paper and a pencil, don’t I?”. Blah, blah, blah, and that person probably also walked five miles to school uphill both ways. I shouldn’t be too insulting, as I used to be one of those people.

I have now seen the light, especially after Evernote helped me maintain at least a shred of sanity during an unexpected move in which I managed to find a new place to live and move in two weeks. I find that it is the very vagueness and simplicity of the concept that makes notebook software such a powerful tool. They provide you with an information ecosystem that enables you to organize both your work life and personal life.

Evernote has three levels of hierarchy. Notes can be in a notebook and a notebook can be in a stack. This is the big difference with OneNote, which has many more levels of hierarchy, as many as you want. I hope Crystal will do a tool tip on OneNote so you can compare the two. Right now you can get a start by looking at our guide to Notebook Software. To get back to Evernote, some people prefer its more free-from design, particularly as anything can be found using Evernote’s search capability.

Evernote wants to be your tool for remembering everything, thus its elephant logo. So one feature of Evernote is its device agnosticity. There is Evernote software or apps for almost every platform – all the major browsers, Windows, Mac, many mobile devices and tablets including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Nook, and more. Does not seem to be available for the various flavors of Unix/Linux yet, but that is the last major OS for it to conquer.

As part of being an individual’s information ecosystem, Evernote connects to a wide variety of other hardware and software. Each Evernote account has its own email address, so you can add a note to Evernote via email. A number of scanners now include Evernote as a destination for scanned files. Evernote is a channel on ifttt, so you can write ifttt recipes to, for example, archive all your tweets or WordPress blog posts in Evernote. Some of the third-party apps expand on Evernote’s basic functionality and are listed on the Evernote Trunk page. For example, Evernote does not provide templates (OneNote does). An app called Kustom Note does provide templates for Evernote. Disclaimer – I’ve only looked at Kustom Note briefly, not gotten it to work yet, but it does display some nice templates.

Evernote can include a variety of note formats, such as rich text notes, audio, and graphics (excluding video). Take a photo of a handwritten note, for example, or scan it, and Evernote will run optical character recognition (OCR) on the note and the text will be searchable. With Evernote’s Web Clipper, available for most browsers, you can add all or part of a web page to Evernote.

Let’s go back to my recent move. After getting a notice tacked to my door that I had 45 days to vacate my old apartment as it had been sold and was being demolished, my first step was to start looking at apartment sites (well, actually, my first step was to roll up into a ball and scream). I created a notebook in Evernote called Apartment Find. I clipped into it sites about apartment complexes of interest. I then could add information to that note such as a call to the complex verifying apartment availability and dates. I looked up the complex on the Apartment Ratings site with reviews of complexes (which, overall, is enough to persuade you to never ever move), and added notes about the reviews. As I narrowed down my options, I started adding more and more information on the few sites I was most interested in, including questions about that complex with the answers obtained from the apartment managers. Once I decided on a place, I then noted what I needed to take with me to fill out an application, get the credit check done, and sign the lease. Once the lease was signed, I found a mover, and started making notes on what I needed to do, for example take my cat to be boarded – clipped details such as hours and directions to the kennel into the note. Made notes about who to notify about changes of address and marked those off when done. Made notes about priority of items to move – for example, make sure the entertainment center and the electronics went in last and out first, as I had an appointment with Comcast the afternoon of the move. Made notes on appointments to get gas and cable hooked up. Made notes on items to be bought – new cleaning supplies, etc. and possible items of new furniture, including clipping web pages from Ikea or other suppliers. Anyway, that is the picture of an example. Evernote’s blog has examples of how people from all walks of life are using the software.

This blog, of course, is interested in tools for higher education, and again notebook software has a lot of utility. Since PDFs can be attached to a note, it can help keep track of what’s been read for a class/research project. Many schools at all levels of the education system are encouraging students to use notebook software to keep a portfolio of school accomplishments. Create a mind map for a project and store it in Evernote, with another note that is a project-specific to-do list. Both professors and students can keep a notebook for each class, attach the syllabus, add notes on due dates, scope of assignments, questions to ask the professor, and more.

There is no one software that is the holy grail of productivity, but notebook software is as close as we have come so far. Life is complicated. Stay on top of it with the notebook software of your choice.

Whiz! Bang! Tilt! Twirl!

My co-blogger Crystal turned me on to a book by Maura Nevel Thomas called Personal Productivity Secrets. I have now read the first chapter and am already impressed, and taking my time thinking about it (given that I am an overeater, I think of this as taking time to digest what I’ve read).

Frankly, part of that first chapter terrified me. She went through several of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and every single one of them applied to me. Symptoms such as intolerance of boredom, many projects underway at once, difficulty getting organized, procrastination, trouble following through, etc. are symptoms I live all the time. However, she goes on to say that one doctor believes that many people in our highly-connected, high-stimulus world have a culturally-induced Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). The theory is that the brain gets addicted to anything that provides a high level of stimulus, including the stimulus of constant computer/social interactions made possible by new technologies.

I was reading these words on my Nook Color e-reader and tablet (it has full web browsing capabilities) while in my recliner. On the left arm of the recliner sat my laptop. On the right arm was room for the Nook, my smartphone, and my telephone I use with a VOIP service. The telephone only has a microcontroller, but the VOIP box has computing power. I look across the room and see my Tivo, which is also a full computer running Linux. All this computing power for one person, and it doesn’t count my office computer. These devices have some overlapping capabilities, but each has its strengths for different tasks. Mostly what they do, though, is keep my brain busy.

A further hypothesis Thomas posits is that while this level of stimulus has some good effects, it also means the brain is not giving any time to deep, reflective thought. It is this quiet time of mulling over ideas that the brain makes connections and uses creativity to solve problems. These were not entirely new ideas to me, I had seen similar in William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry. Powers solution is pretty simple – take some time in your life to disconnect entirely from electronics and reconnect with your own mind and with the people you interact with face-to-face. Thomas promises much more; she offers a combination of process and tools that allow you to take control of your attention, that fragile thing so under assault in a world where people are so busy and so hyperconnected.

Another really important concept Thomas has is that so much of what we do is reactive. If we start the day with email, for example, we react to our emails and that can wind up taking the whole day. leaving one at the end wondering what has been accomplished. I started this post a couple of days ago, over the weekend, and have noticed exactly this tendency in the two days I’ve been back at work.

I thought it would be good practice for me to stop reading and see if I can think of my own ways to get accomplish more substantive work. Then I’ll compare mine to hers as I read more. First of all, I don’t think I can entirely abandon checking email in the morning. there are some things my job requires me to respond to. I know already that part of her plan involves to-do lists. I’ve played around with them but not made them a center piece of my activities. That is the first positive change I can make. Another might be to take 15 minutes in the morning to write – doesn’t matter what – a blog post, ideas for an article, perhaps a mind map of a project. People who have gotten into the habit of writing, from what I read, tend to produce more and find their thoughts are better organized.

A particularly difficult project would be deciding what to read. I have so many RSS feeds I follow that I’ve gotten busy and dropped all of them. I get a lot of email that I delete unread. Crystal does a lot of reading on PKM topics, I read more on the tools side, but it is still too much. Comments on how you keep your professional reading to a reasonable level would be welcome.

I’ll post more on what I read in Personal Productivity Secrets, whether her plan agrees with mine, and how well I manage to implement my own plan.