Practical ASP.NET

Developing Around Social Networking and Knowledge Management

Peter asks if business developers should be thinking seriously about social networking and knowledge management.

Normally, I concentrate on what tools I should be using in my job. However, the last few months I've been taking the time to lift up my head and look at what the tools I'm using should be used for.

Last year, I got to participate in creating a course on knowledge management for Learning Tree International. One of the points we wanted to make in that course is that knowledge management is not a technical topic. Knowledge always flows around an organization -- it just doesn't do it in an organized way. Knowledge management is about making sure that the knowledge gets to the people who need it. Technology matters because knowledge usually only flows when people share a work space, and even then sharing of knowledge is not guaranteed. When people are geographically distant from each other, you need technology and specifically Web tools to ensure that knowledge can flow to the people who need it.

I was thinking about this challenge when I submitted the last of the material for my code generation book to my publisher Addison-Wesley. This content was featured in a Practical ASP.NET column back in January. Thanks to writing the book, I ended up being interviewed on .NET Rocks. This was very cool and part of getting the knowledge embedded in the book out to people who would find it useful.

The thing is, you could look at .NET Rocks as simply being a Web application for distributing knowledge as audio files. Is this something that I should be building into my business applications? Where -- outside of the Help system, perhaps -- do knowlege management tools belong?

At least one answer is obvious: Wikis. I've used a couple of Wikis so far -- MindTouch (formerly DekiWiki) and TWiki. As an ASP.NET developer, knowledge is only interesting if it actually leads to action, so I want a wiki that I can integrate with business applications. I want to go beyond simply linking from the Help system into the wiki; I want to give users the ability to initiate business activities from within the wiki itself.

One of the other points we make in the course is making knowledge available to people is, first and foremost, a social activity. Which leads me onto my second topic: social networking

Social Network Butterfly
Outside of consulting projects, I've also been investigating self-publishing. My goal is to provide an "extension pack" to my code generation book covering topics that apply only to Visual Studio 2008 and 2010 (primarily T4 and VSPackage) and, later, a book on .NET RIA Services. I'm looking at two companies that I'm hoping will let me make this book easy for developers to find and acquire in both paper and digital formats.

If you're interested in the progress I'm making, I've got a blog about technical writing at http://rtfmphvis.blogspot.com/, where I discuss the project. For this trial I'm using a book I've been working on for the last four years called "rtfm*," which is all about writing effective user manuals.

Once I decided to self-publish my books, I started to think about how I was going to market them, ideally without spending a lot of actual money. And that line of thought led me to social networking. There are a large number social networking tools available (blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit and so on) and I've started building up content in some of those areas. Eventually, I'll have to start linking with worthwhile sites and do some real networking.

As I've been working with these social networking tools, I've started thinking about how these tools would make sense in business applications. Should I be figuring out how to build these kinds of sites so that I can serve my clients? Should I be looking at ASP.NET controls that will let me add these features to my clients' sites? Unlike knowledge management, the contribution that social networking can make to the kind of applications that I build isn't as obvious.

What do you think? I may not know where I'm going, but I'm having fun looking at the scenery while I get there.

About the Author

Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His blog posts on user experience design can be found at http://blog.learningtree.com/tag/ui/.

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