June 01, 2003

Knowledge Worker or Google Hound?

I was having a chat with Kasia a little while ago and we got on the topic of knowledge. I had mentioned that the MySQL folks have asked me to take the MySQL Core Certification Exam, which I think is a good idea. They'd like some feedback on the exam and I'd like to be able to tell people that it's a worthwhile certification, etc.

Along the way I said something like "I don't know how much they expect me to study, but there's a whole lot of stuff that I just don't know without the on-line manual nearby." Call me selfish, but that was one of my motivations for becoming a MySQL mirror (mysql.zawodny.com). I wanted to ensure that I'd always have fast access to the documentation.

Anyway, the conversation went roughly like this:

k: That's true of most everything I know..
k: I'd be lost w/o books and manuals
j: Yup, me too
k: I'm good at looking things up
k: I've always felt sort of guilty about that..
k: People think I'm bright.. nah
k: I'm just efficient with google
j: Heh, right... I think lots of people are like that.
k: Do you ever get that feeling?
k: "If people only knew how little I really know..."
j: All the time.
k: Oh, good. Not just me then.
j: Not at all.
k: That makes me feel better.
j: It's most noticeable when I'm talking with VPs at work and they're like, "but we have you so it's no big deal..."
j: But that's probably just good delegation on their parts too... "That's your problem, not mine..." :-)

And then I had this "ah ha!" moment.

In thinking about the difference between "knowing something" and "knowing how to find something" I realized that I'd heard this all before in a different context.

Back in the late 90s when I was occasionally building things that passed for knowledge management tools at Marathon Oil, there was all this talk about knowledge workers. These were people who'd have vast quantities of information knowledge at their fingertips. All they needed was a way to organize, classify, index, search, and collaborate with it.

I think we've made it. I've become quite efficient at finding information when I need it. But the information isn't organized like I had envisioned a few years ago. It's just this big ugly mess known as the The Web. Lots of pockets of information from mailing lists, weblogs, software projects, communities, and company web sites are loosely tied together by hyperlinks. There's no grand schema or centralized database. There's little structure or quality control. No global vocabulary.

But even with all that going against it, it's all indexed and easily searchable thanks largely to Google and the companies that preceded it (Altavista, Yahoo, etc.). Most of the time it actually works.


Really. Think about it from the point of view of 6 years ago.

Now that I think about it, there was also a lot of talk about corporate intelligence back then too. But one thing I learned in my time at Yahoo Finance was that a lot of people who work for very respectable multi-million dollar companies used Yahoo Finance (and various other common web sites) for corporate intelligence--not some fancy tool that was designed and marketed for corporate intelligence.

We're all just very efficient at scavenging on the Web. Some are simply more efficient (or can think of better keywords) than others.

So, anyway... I just figured all this out. I guess I'm a little late to the party on this one. But I can't help but to look back and laugh at all the stuff that never materialized.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:53 PM

Remote Control Ceiling Fan

My landlord called me on Thursday to let me know that someone would come by on Saturday to install the ceiling fan that I requested over a year ago. He bought it a long time ago but never got around to getting it installed. And by the time I remembered it was fall and not that hot anymore.

Anyway, the guy came by on Saturday and did the installation. I have a nice new ceiling fan in the computer room of my apartment. It was the only room that had virtually no circulation, so it always got really warm in the summertime.

The funny part was when he asked me if I had a 9-volt battery. "Why?" I asked. "For the remote control" he said with a straight face. I looked at him blankly for couple seconds and then looked at the box. Sure enough, there was a remote control in it.

You don't believe me? Have a look.

It's official:

  1. People are too lazy
  2. I now really have too many remote controls
  3. The computer room is cool. Literally.

This got me thinking. If we're putting remote controls on ceiling fans now, what's next? I already have remote controls for my Sony Car Discman, DVD player, Lights (X10), TV, VCR, TiVo, and Stereo. My previous car had a keychain remote for locking, honking, and so on.

Maybe kitchen appliances? Or the toilet? You know, a "John Cage from Ally McBeal" sort of remote flush device?


Posted by jzawodn at 03:01 PM