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Friday, March 22, 2002


Dim Memories of Exciting Times. What do the radical free speech movement of the 1960s Berkeley and a computer-based education system based on B. F. Skinner's behavioral theories have in common? Each has influenced the art and science of knowledge management in unique ways.

I made these connections by serendipity. It started when Mike related some fascinating stories of the early days of personal computing and his parallel experiences on the Internet back in the late 1970s. The reason the experiences were parallel is because his access to the Internet and its network culture was via mainframes and minicomputers on MILNET. His personal computing experience and online experience converged in the early 1980s when he graduated from dialing into single-line bulletin board systems (BBS) to USENET access. The deeper I dug with probing questions the more he revealed (dredged up is a more apt term).

Connections. As his story unfolded he mentioned early work called the Community Memory Project. I took this bit of information and applied my own research. What I discovered was that in the early 1970s a community-minded innovator and visionary named Lee Felsenstein was one of the project's creators. He was also involved with the free speech movement, which influenced his thinking. In any other place but Berkeley an engineering mindset and social consciousness would be mutually exclusive, but the summary of the project and how it came to be shows that Mr. Felsenstein was an engineer with a strong commitment to social change. An account of his role and motivations are provided in a two-article overview of the Community Memory Project's history: Part 1 - How Community Memory Project Came to Be and Part 2 - Second Generation. Mr. Felsenstein (a fellow Philadelphian) made a number of contributions to personal computing, which were recognized when he was inducted into the Computer Hall of Fame in 1998.

The connection to B. F. Skinner and computer-based education also has its roots in the 1960s, when Control Data Corporation initiated the PLATO Project. This early work evolved into collaborative computing, and has significantly influenced, in many overt and subtle ways, the way the world wide web has evolved.

The Point? Both events (the free speech movement that was the impetus for the Community Memory Project and the PLATO project) planted the seeds of knowledge management. Studying these early projects gives insights into what does and does not work when developing a knowledge management solution. Both contribute to the body of knowledge for collaborative systems and knowledge management (PLATO is exceptionally well-documented), and this body of knowledge should not be overlooked if you are involved in knowledge management strategies.