Knowing what you've got before it's gone

Peter Gabriel -- yes, the same guy who formed Genesis before it became a vehicle for Phil Collins -- is backing a social-networking website for the dead. Called, it doesn't contain anything now, or at least not anything accessible from the front page. But the intention is reportedly to provide a wiki-style site for documenting and sharing memories of the dead. This isn't entirely new as ideas go -- Facebook memorials to the dead have already become commonplace, if not mainstream.

The concept, though, is a reminder that we often don't know what we have until it's gone. Memorial tributes to the deceased, though, are only a symptom of a more generalized condition that we aren't very good at preserving and documenting what we know. The purpose of a program for preserving institutional memory is to deliberately discover and record the knowledge of an organization before it's gone.

It's not enough, though, to simply gather data and allow it to sit in a pile. Google's Book Search service is scanning and digitizing huge numbers of old books and magazines, but in and of itself, a big pile of data isn't especially useful. The value in that data emerges when people are able to draw new connections from the data and record those observations as useful narratives. For instance, one can use the book-search tool to find that Isaac Asimov wrote a series of articles under the title "Futureworld" for the house magazine of the Boy Scouts of America in the early 1990s. Those individual articles don't stand for much, but taken as a whole, they paint a picture of how the future looked from the perspective of 1990 and 1991. Someone has to recognize, though, that a pattern exists before it can be usefully recorded.

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This page contains a single entry by Brian Gongol published on July 31, 2009 12:07 PM.

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