Yesterday the New York Times carried two interesting articles that relate to knowledge management. Markets Shaped by Consumers reports on a constant dialog between producers and consumers about products consumers want. In the past, the dialog was primarily via consumers modifying products (e.g, the first mountain bikes were built from old-fashioned heavy bikes by enthusiasts) or consumers using products in unexpected ways (e.g., using Blue Tooth equipped cell phones not so much for data exchange with computers, but rather to message nearby strangers). Now the article reports software facilitates the conversation, citing both blogs and “social network software.” The latter uses “search technology, referrals and rankings” to find helpful information and connect people (including producers and consumers).

I have previously reported on IBM’s Web Fountain full-text project. According to the Times, IBM considers social network technology as one aspect of “what they term ‘relationship-oriented computing’.” The article provides a bit more detail about Web Fountain: “Using search, business intelligence and text analytics technology, I.B.M. researchers can look for trends, buzz and hints of shifting consumer attitudes as evident from Web postings. I.B.M. hopes to sell this market intelligence as a service to companies. ‘It’s the collective I.Q. of the Internet coming to your aid,’ said James C. Spohrer, director for services research at Almaden.”

A companion piece, Idea for Online Networking Brings Two Entrepreneurs Together, discusses social networking software in more detail. One of the products mentioned in both is Linkedin. I registered for this service a few weeks ago and am still trying it. The idea is to make use of your contacts’ contacts. This can facilitate expertise location and relationship management. My initial and not yet very informed opinion of this software is that it is more likely to succeed within an organization or existing community than in the public at large. Law firm knowledge managers interested in expertise location and CRM, however, should keep an eye on this space.