Long tails for the enterprise occur when the power to create and publish is widely held, the content can be distributed at near-zero cost and a market exists that connects knowledge workers with a nearly infinite number of content creators. Personal computers, the Internet and powerful search engines have made this possible.
In the recent past, the cost of publishing and distribution dictated that only a fraction of content was available to knowledge workers, either from publishers or through bookstores. Now, a simple search on Google can generate thousands of choices in the category that potential consumers previously could not access.
There are limitations, however. If anyone can publish, and choices are nearly limitless, how do knowledge workers make a good choice? Using incorrect information can lead to poor analysis, faulty processes, errors in applications, problematic procedures and more.
Also, associated costs in rework, time, customer satisfaction and lost sales can be enormous. Even the consumption of out-of-date information can be damaging in a competitive market.
Some pre-filters such as publishers exist but not so much on the long tail, where many people self-publish. In an era in which knowledge workers know more about their specialty than their managers, the traditional filter by which the manager could be counted on to catch mistakes is obsolete. When it comes to finding information on the Internet, the search engines are the only really viable filters today.
For example, Google’s search engine returns rank choices based on its proprietary search technology. Users have to trust that this technology is providing the best possible choice of information, creating a potentially unhealthy dependence.
Further, nearly limitless choice is not the same as nearly limitless access to free content — a great deal of content on the Internet must be purchased for consumption, which also means that it is protected in some fashion.
So, the “near-limitless” choice available on the long tail might exclude some of the most pertinent content, especially if the content provider does not agree to be spidered, indexed and previewed, as required by Google and other popular search engines.
Proprietary search technology and rules create biases. Search results are what they are, and users cannot modify them. Content providers that do not adhere to Google’s rules can be excluded from the search results.
There is no reason to think the biases built into search engines will be eliminated in the near future. The Internet is an irreplaceable tool for knowledge workers, but enterprises cannot afford to rely on solely search engine filters to ensure they are consuming the best and most relevant information.
To do so is to risk obsolescence at a time when the pace of technological change continues to accelerate. Additional filters are required, especially for choosing information the enterprise’s learning organization consumes and shares without further review.
Knowledge management professionals such as corporate librarians and learning managers are in a unique position to provide the additional protections without limiting the creativity and innovation that can come from unfettered access to the long tail. As key enablers of their enterprises’ learning organization, they are responsible for finding, cataloging and disseminating information.
Knowledge management professionals now need to adapt and enhance their role by selecting information sources that can be consumed without review and by developing the guidelines to capture and consume new ideas and information.
In doing so, they will deliver on the enormous potential when the learning organization meets the long tail, and they will continue to be invaluable members of the enterprise’s management team.
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