I stumbled upon trailmeme.com recently on a friend's Website (Christian Henner-Fehr). Thanks to the wonders of Google translate the site's developer and project manager, Venkatesh Rao, got in on the discussion. I mentioned that I was planning on presenting / discussing trailmeme at the Knowledge Camp in Passau, Germany, on October 8th. An interesting conversation ensued and Venkat offered some slides for my presentation.
But what is trailmeme, anyway?
trailmeme.com is a project Run by the Xerox Corporation. The Site was conceived by Venkat (See the rest of the team behind the project here).
What does trailmeme do?
With trailmeme you can blaze trails through the internet, thus curating content that can then be viewed in so-called walks. This is achieved by saving "markers" (there are browser plug-ins to facilitate this) that can subsequently be arranged in a map in which relationships are specified (order of the walkthrough).
The following information can be stored in the markers (this information is displayed when mousing over the marker):
- Blurb (a short information about the link / web content)
- Editorial comment (this can be a longer text)
- tags (not displayed at mouse-over)
In this way you can preview a trail's markers. A double click on a mark starts the "walk", a two-pane view of the original web content with a trailmeme section at the top (this can be hidden). In the top navigation are links to the next or previous marker in the trail - if more options are set in the "map" section it will show an overview of possible next choices by name. This makes it possible to follow different paths through a trail, depending on choices made along the way.
In the welcome e-mail I received upon registering, Trailmeme calls itself "a game of skill". You start at "novice" level and the aim is to increase one's level through activity: "as you blaze more trails, and as more people walk them, you will be promoted to higher levels". This is aimed at increasing adoption and use, I'm sure.
I tested trailmeme with my own first trail (http://trailmeme.com/trails/trailmeme_exploration) and a second one about the German brewery Schneider Weisse (http://trailmeme.com/trails/Schneider_Weisse).
The key question I asked myself in preparation of the Knowledge Camp (a barcamp where people who work in the field of knowledge management meet) was: how can trailmeme and tools like it further knowledge management in particular?
My initial observations: Trailmeme furthers curation of information found on the web and makes it visible in a logical manner. It is a good tool to use to publish trails for others to follow, allowing annotation of the waypoints. Junctions along the trail allow users / readers to make their own decisions along the way which makes it more interactive. What the service lacks is collaboration on trails. While you can share / save trails to the most common social-bookmarking sites, users cannot be invited to add content to a trail. There is a "discussion" feature embedded into each trail, however.
Venkat provided an interesting insight in the comment conversation on Christian's blog:
"I have found through my own trailbuilding that some visual asymmetry and apparent ‘chaos’ in a trail is very useful. If you build a trail in a very regular pattern like a grid or symmetric hub and spoke, it is easy to forget the meaning of the trail. But if you give each trail a unique shape by making things slightly asymmetric, it helps you easily recall and recognize things. This is similar to maps. It is easier to remember states/countries with some unique shape based on visual asymmetry than very regular patterns (as in, Texas is easier to recognize than the „square“ states in the middle of the US). I later found there is actually research supporting this."
The knowledge managers at the conference received the news and demonstration of trailmeme well. For professional use in their corporations, however, they requested a closed version that would run on their own servers. This comes down to a typically German view on privacy or publicness. Even though we discussed the merits of open sourcing information in an effort to achieve mutual gains, the majority of the knowledge managers attending cited a closed version as a critical feature.
Venkat had foreseen this, as he wrote me before the conference: "We are working on designing the enterprise version, so thoughts on that would be especially valuable, especially given that Germans seem to think differently about enterprise, since things like SAP are philosophically different from the way Americans solve the same problems."
At the conference we examined the benefits of trailmeme and storify in their ability to further dissemination, accumulation and evaluation of information through story telling. Generally there was a consensus that story telling is a method well-suited in this regard and there were other presentations on the topic such as using scripting and storyboarding to prepare presentations. Of the two tools discussed, trailmeme gave a more scientific appearance while storify had more of a touch of an "end-user product" characterized by its drag and drop feature and social-media integration. Conference attendee Ralph Traphoener turned me onto yet a third tool, that probably lies between trailmeme and storify in functionality: pearltrees.com.
Austrian conference attendee Dr. Angelika Mittelmann, a knowledge manager for the Austrian steel manufacturer voestalpine, agreed to offer feedback to the trailmeme team in preparation of its upcoming enterprise version. Angelika uses story telling in the company to aid in knowledge transfer, for example to convey lessons learned previously before starting new projects and to document organizational knowledge prior to change of key personnel. She explains:
"At the beginning the assigned project team defined the objectives, selected the events (in our case the modification of one of our production plants undertaken about five years ago), assigned the commentators and interviewees. Subsequently ten former project team members were interviewed. Afterwards the project team collected their personal views and searched for "puzzle stones" found in the transcribed and anonymized interviews. The challenge was to select all momentous statements belonging to the hidden threads. After this complex and time consuming task the experience document was prepared containing six threads structured according to the project phases. The selected citations were fed back to the interviewees asking for their permission for publication. At the end the experience document was given to the members of a new project team constructing a similar production plant. During a workshop the interviewees, the new project team and the Story Telling project team came together in order to reflect and discuss the content of the experience document. The new project team found many improvements and decided to concentrate on three most important ones."
To me this whole experience around trailmeme is a prime example of how social media can further knowledge in different ways. To sum it up, a brief breakdown:
1) a friend of a friend, at whose conference I spoke at this September, found trailmeme on the web.
2) my friend wrote a blogpost explaining trailmeme.
3) I commented on that blogpost and
4) so did trailmeme developer Venkatesh Rao (thanks to Google Translate).
5) we exchanged comments on the blog and via e-mail.
6) Venkat shared slides to use at the conference via Google Docs.
7) I gained feedback at the Knowledge Camp I am able to provide back to the dev team and
8) communication continues...
Photo: Passau on October 8th, 2010