If a social knowledge management effort can self-organize, it requires motivation for both producers and consumers of content. Granted, there will be some who fulfill both roles as conducers, but the Pareto principle suggests that for everyone who contributes knowledge to the system and takes on other roles in classifying or editing content, there will be many more people who access the content simply to read it.

In a firm as well as in society in general, the challenge in motivating users is the same: how do we get them to log on and keep logging on? In a firm or other formal organization, we can more easily dictate employee/member participation in the system. In a self-organizing, grassroots SKM system like the South Dakota blogosphere, we can issue no diktats. The members of the organization whom we hope will use the system are all of our neighbors, everyone in South Dakota. We’re all part of the same organization, but we active participants have no authority over the vast majority of the neighbors we hope to benefit with our system.

How do we draw in these fellow users? The same way businesses draw customers: by producing a useful, attention-getting product. We must convince more of our neighbors that the South Dakota blogosphere is worth visiting. We do that largely by producing useful, engaging content. Nonetheless, we also use strategies beyond strict SKM to keep the attention of our viewers and help them optimize their use of the system.

Consider, for instance, Flying Tomato Farms. Rebecca Terk took a vacation this summer to Seattle. She alerted her readers to the trip, not because that alert provided any useful knowledge in the realm of her usual content, but because that alert served as meta-content, a signal to readers that new garden-related content would not come as frequently in the coming days. That signaled users that they need not follow her particular blog as closely for a few days, allowing them to optimize their own attention.

While signalling she would be away from the state and regular posting, Terk still provided trip updates, mostly photos of her trip around Seattle. Her trip notes may be read with an eye toward further hints of some of the social knowledge Terk usually addresses — environment, art, good urban design, etc. — but her posts were mostly a pleasant diversion. These posts may not contribute to the main theme of organic gardening, but they serve an SPN-like function of putting the main knowledge on which Terk focuses into a personal perspective.

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