Knowledge Logging and E-Mail

Seth Dillingham posted a response today to this post by John Robb about whether or not e-mail is an appropriate tool for waht Robb calls “knowledge logging.”

Robb has a lot of excellent insights about knowledge management and I try to follow his posts pretty closely, but Robb also has a habit of ignoring or denigrating worthwhile tools that do not fit into Userland’s plans (i.e., half the time his posts are excellent, half the time they’re just Userland marketing drivel).

One of his ongoing projects is dismissing e-mail as an effective component of knowledge management, but his claims make no sense at all. According to Robb, e-mail is:

1. Too time consuming — Robb claims it takes him 3-4 hours to go through 200 e-mails where he can scan 500 weblog posts in just 20 minutes. This can’t be serious. From my experience, e-mail is much faster to go through, especially if you have an e-mail client with decent filtering.

My Animal Rights site gets 50-60 posts a day. All of those posts are sent to me via e-mail, filtered into a folder, and I can go through them all very quickly — far more quickly than I could by reading them on the web site.

And I know I’m not alone in this. Many of the people who access my web sites do so only via e-mail. They never actually visit the web version because e-mail is so much easier to deal with.

I suppose Robb might reply that they could go even quicker by using an RSS aggregator tool like Radio, but a) nobody outside of a (growing) handful of geeks knows what RSS is, and b) few people want to learn yet another application. Everybody has e-mail these days, however.

2. Not Archived and Horrible Search Features — I have about 400 megabytes of archived e-mails, so I’m not so sure what Robb is talking about here. Most e-mail lists I’m subscribed to have some external list archive as well, so if my local archive is destroyed there is always a public archive.

I use Eudora and can search my local archives very quickly. I needed to find a friend’s phone number last night, and it took just a couple minutes to find the relevant e-mail I was looking for. And the reason it took that long was the real problem with search functions, which is figuring out how to generate a request that will return the desired results.

Robb sums up by saying,

For sharing knowledge with a large group of constantly
shifting individuals; K-Logs win hands down.

I couldn’t disagree more. E-mail wins hands down for this purpose.

But beyond that, I want my knowledge management tools to be largely independent of the particular way that users want to access the information. I prefer e-mail. Others prefer their browser. Some folks might want to use Radio. Others might want to use a newsreader. Design tools such that users can get to the information however they want. Macrobyte has this philosophy exactly right in their documentation for Conversant,

Although most people see a Conversant conversation primarily through the web, it’s important to understand that Conversant is not, in and of it’s self, a web application. As much as possible, Conversant is ignorant of what Input/Output method is used to bring information in and out of the application.

. . .

The advantage of this design is that at anytime additional I/O modules may be written to provide alternate means of access a conversation without requiring any changes to the modules already in place.

That’s just beautiful, man.

Leave a Reply