Remember when someone older than you first got an email account? They probably sent you at least one joke, and it was likely to a long list of recipients. Actually, they probably sent a lot of jokes. There is a similar phenomenon with social media. While it may not be jokes, we are inundated with over-sharing of the same stuff.

First of all, there is a difference between sharing and making something public. Posting a social bookmark to a service like Delicious does not create additional noise for your networked peers in a social network. This is making your work public. But posting your latest collection of webpages in an activity stream is sharing. Doing it poorly adds more noise than signal.

For example, I recently passed on a tagged collection of social bookmarks as a result of a conversation in an online community of practice. I shared this tag when the occasion arose. I did not post every time I created a new bookmark. In my PKM framework of Seek>Sense>Share, this is called discernment, or knowing when, and with whom to share.

As good social learners, sharing is not as important as knowing when to share. This does not preclude us from collecting lots of information (Seek), but it should make us consider appropriate ways to share. We should be ready to share when the time is right.

The most important and difficult part of PKM is sense-making. Little should be shared if there has been no value added. The value I added when sharing my bookmarks was not so much in terms of adding my own insights, which were negligible, but there was value in the timing. The context for sharing was optimal.

There are some people who are very good at curation, adding value to everything they post. Maria Popova at brainpickings.org gives an excellent example of adding value. Robin Good is another fine example of curating, using scoop.it where he almost always adds an insight. Follow their examples of adding value.

Thinking of adding value should be the first stage in curation, PKM, or any professional online sharing. That value could be just parking things for easy retrieval. It is definitely not filling activity streams with massive amounts of unwanted information. Find ways to separate signal and noise.

I  use a range of sense-making techniques, e.g., filters to separate the signal from the noise, and techniques to validate any sources of  information I receive – which I have developed over time. Although I trust my network to feed me valid resources, it is always important to check any resources personally to ensure they meet my own high “quality control” standards.

I then synthesise any new valuable pieces of information with what I already know, asking myself does this add something key to what I already know, does this take my own thinking forward, or does this even change my thinking about what I already know. – Jane Hart: My Daily PKM Routine

The knowledge gained from PKM is an emergent property of all its activities. Merely tagging an article does not create knowledge. The process of seeking out information sources, making sense of them through some actions, and then sharing with others to confirm or accelerate our knowledge are interlinked activities from which  knowledge (often slowly) emerges.

Professional and enterprise social networks are becoming the norm. We have passed the initial infatuation stage with social media and now it’s time to use them to get things done, solve problems, make connections, and improve our creativity. Unless each person has effective sense-making processes, social business networks will be nothing more than noise amplification. Like those email jokes most of us now snicker about, sharing without adding value is passé.

adding valueHere is a review of 14 different ways to add value in sense-making. There are many more.

Ross Dawson’s five ways of adding value to information are a good start at sense-making techniques, with my short explanations appended.

  • Filtering: separating signal from noise, based on some criteria.
  • Validation: ensuring that information is reliable, current or supported by research.
  • Synthesis: describing patterns, trends or flows in large amounts of information.
  • Presentation: making information understandable through visualization or logical presentation.
  • Customization: describing information in context.

In 1936, James Mangan, a most interesting character, identified several skills for acquiring knowledge (via Maria Popova).

  • Practice: This is absolutely critical. It is primarily through experience – performance  – reflection that we learn.
  • Get it from yourself: Sometimes it’s better to work things out for yourself than get a quick answer from someone else.
  • Walk around it: Looking at something from a different perspective, especially away from the mainstream, can give new insights.
  • Experiment: Use a constant probe – sense – respond approach with work and learning.

Robin Good picked up on the theme of sense-making, and identified five more curation skills, with my comments:

  • Comparing: With increasing complexity, and obfuscation by competing interests, being able to compare related items becomes more valuable. Imagine if someone could compare all your mobile telephone options in a clear, simple way. Good comparisons are quite useful.
  • Finding related items: Collecting a series of resources on a subject over time can be useful, and save others time. For example, I have several bookmarks on shareable workspaces that I have passed on to many people interested in starting a work commons.
  • Illustrating / Visualizing: Good info-graphics are very useful, but too often they obscure. Visualizing takes great skill but can be exceptionally useful.
  • Evaluating: Being able to set criteria and evaluate from a neutral point of view can add real value to what otherwise would just be data. Nate Silver has made a living from this.
  • Crediting & Attributing: While attribution may just seem like a nice thing to do, it is very important to trace how knowledge is constructed. With proper attribution to the original source, you can then make changes if evidence or circumstances change.