• 10:44:27 am on December 30, 2009 | 0
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    New Years’ Resolution: Think about CONTEXT, not CONTENT

    As we enter the New Year, I’d like to propose a resolution for 2010 – that we get over CONTENT, and start thinking about CONTEXT.

    The world of information is fragmenting and multiplying rapidly. The idea that ‘content’ exists in one repository, in a tidy consistent format, is already antiquated. From databases to blogs, from documentation to FAQ’s, the places and types of information at our disposal are endless, and as such, all equally potentially confusing. To provide knowledge to others to enable their use of our products and services we can’t focus on endlessly rationalizing all these resources, but rather on optimizing HOW and WHEN they are presented.

    CONTEXT means the question at hand, the identity of the questioner, the environment surrounding the question – all these factors condition WHAT information is needed, and HOW it should be presented. The goal is the ANSWER, not finding ‘content’. The most important factors are knowing what someone is looking for – the processes and interactions necessary to establish the context of any inquiry are the path to the fastest, quickest answer.

    The answer might be field in a database record, a knowledge base solution, or a detailed step-by-step procedure or policy. We can’t deliver the best answer until we truly know the question – sounds obvious, and good support agents do this type of contextual inquiry on every call. Yet more often we trundle our customers (and support agents!) through layers and layers of tools, vending up reams of content, as if finding information was the essential task. This is an old, techno-centric view of knowledge management that’s changing. The successful companies are figuring out better ways of rapidly establishing effective paths of inquiry that lead to a wide array of potential answers. The experience is one of scent and traction – users feel like the whole organization is tilted properly towards them and the way they think and use products. Using these tools will quickly become an efficient and preferred method of interaction, as will doing business with the companies that provide them.

    I heard an interesting thing at a meeting this year. During a roundtable on knowledge management one of the attendees suddenly said “you know – search is actually an act of failure!” His “aha” was that if a user is forced to guess at terms that exist in some repository of content, then sift through titles for the answer, the game is already lost. The actual question and context of the user has been reduced to a one or two word query against some indeterminate cloud of information. The user has more to tell about their need, and we have more tools to help them establish the best path to the best answer.

    So let’s make 2010 about CONTEXT. Let’s think clearly, carefully and completely about how people use our products, where their questions arise (in THEIR way of thinking), and how they would best traverse our services capabilities to get the most out of them. Then let’s build THAT. This type of approach will yield a whole new level of insight about what is possible, and encourage us to create service experiences that map to the way our customers and support staff think.

    It’s a whole new world in 2010 – it just requires a shift in perspective.

    Have a Great New Year!

    John Chmaj

    “The Knowledge Advocate”

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