My top ten FUMSI articles: Part 1
The July edition of FUMSI magazine should be available now, and it is the first edition I've taken part in as a contributing editor. I've joined the team looking after the 'S' in FUMSI, which stands for 'share'. Each month the website and magazine feature a new article in each of the four Information Professional activity spaces - how to Find, Use, Manage or Share information. The PDF edition also includes comment from the four contributing editors, Marcy Phelps, Tim Buckley Owen, Karen Loasby, and now myself.
As part of preparing to join the team, I read through the back issues and a lot of the article database. So I thought by way of introducing it as a new role for me, I would present my 10 favourite articles from FUMSI to date.
"Practice What You Preach: Building and Gaining Credibility with Clients" by Lesley Robinson
I don't think anybody who knows me will be surprised that I have picked this article by consultant Lesley Robinson. It is a great source of tips and reminders of how to go about being a consultant. Or, a circus performer. As Lesley puts it:
"Being a consultant often feels like being in a circus: keeping the pace and energy high, juggling at least six things at once, multi- tasking and helping out other team members, keeping the audience happy and delivering a fabulous overall experience. As with a circus act, underlying the overall performance is constant practice; the honing of skills and taking calculated risks to make it all look easy."
In the course of the article she identifies important ways of keeping on top.
"There are many ways to build expertise. The key ways I have done this are by: taking on challenging projects, ensuring I keep up with industry trends, keeping abreast of developments in business management more generally, joining relevant committees and getting involved with conferences. It is true that you learn something from every project, whether it is an ideal project or not. You could be improving your project management skills, learning how to present ideas, refining the proposal process, managing clients better or trying out a new way to negotiate your fees. There are so many aspects to finding, winning and delivering projects that it has to be a continuous learning process."
"Develop Your Independent Business: Using Information Strategically" by Joanna Ptolomey
This is another good article for the budding consultant or small business owner, as Joanna Ptolemy uncovers some tips and techniques for using business intelligence more productively.
"The first step in strategically developing your business is to identify and analyse your business as it stands at the moment; use the information trapped inside your business. We can all be busy, but are we busy doing the right things? Your potential for growth may not be what you are concentrating on at the moment."
Getting your own concept of success defined correctly is a key achievement in itself:
"Is it about reaching a specific turnover? Is it getting two new clients? Is it getting a book published? Is it being able to drop your children at school and nursery everyday and just pay the bills? Make sure you know what success means for you and your business."
Joanna also stresses that this isn't just a box-ticking exercise that should become an end in itself:
"Personally I like to review my plan every quarter; it gives to me a sense of stability and purpose and keeps me focused. Remember to evaluate your plan - and just because you didn't tick something off that does not mean you failed. Perhaps you learned some other valuable lessons."
"Wikipedia: To Use or Not To Use" by Caryn Wesner-Early
The authority conferred by Google upon the grass-roots written 'controversy magnet' Wikipedia has been the bug-bear of many an Information Professional (and SEO expert) for some time. Caryn Wesner-Early points out here both the well known weaknesses of the wiki format, but also the strengths.
"Wikipedia is an excellent source for a quick outline of an unfamiliar topic. In almost all cases, the Wikipedia article gives as good an overview of a topic as most other sources, usually in approachable language. Even more valuable is its use as a pointer to indicate other, more reliable information sources. At the end of most articles is a list of related links to source material such as books and journals, organisations concerned with the topic at hand and other jumping-off points for the serious researcher. If the information you are looking for is about popular culture, such as information on a celebrity, television programme, movie or the like, Wikipedia is often one of the best sources."
She also points out what for many Information Professionals is an unpalatable truth - that the wiki format is increasingly popular.
"The new, communal world of the Internet is making it more important than ever for individuals to exercise judgment when relying on information from any source. As our information environment gets richer, users must become ever more alert to bias, disinformation, malice and ignorance on the part of the providers. Serious researchers should include community-based sources like Wikipedia in their 'online toolbox' for uncovering valuable sources of information."
"DIY Detection: Competitive Intelligence for SMEs" by Vernon Prior
I must remember never to get on the wrong side of Vernon Prior. His article is littered with quite brilliant examples of how to go about amassing information on competitors that border on the skills of espionage and manipulation.
"In order to extract maximum value, your database records should incorporate personal information that may subsequently be used as disarmers. These are an outward manifestation of your interest in that individual, and will encourage him or her to provide information that would not otherwise be revealed. The use of disarmers and flattery, together with other sophisticated conversational techniques, are collectively known as elicitation."
Vernon also stresses the importance of pre-Internet sources of information - trade magazines, job adverts, newspapers and conferences. He cautions against some of the vagaries of information gleaned from the web.
"The Internet is currently the most popular medium for gathering information; it has enormous advantages. At the same time, it calls for a minimum level of expertise if it is to be effective. For instance, you need to be able to find specific information, and that calls for familiarity with search engines and sophisticated retrieval techniques. With very few exceptions, standards for citing and classifying information are poor, unenforceable or non-existent; and there is a distinct absence of identifying information (metadata). Content often lacks depth and substance, and it is almost impossible to distinguish between fact, editorial, advertising and news."
This is an excellent article, and it made me think closely and re-evaluate some of the information-seeking behaviour I currently have.
"Gleaning consumer intelligence from blogs and podcasts" by Patrice K. Curtis
In a similar way, Patrice K. Curtis writes intelligently about 'consumer-generated content', and makes the point that research is often understood better when it is re-told in the words of a personal story. In this article one of the examples given is about healthcare. Nearly all of the press stories about healthcare in the UK are negative (waiting lists, MRSA, hospital closures), but:
"in monitoring blogs, I discovered patient-driven stories: couples who had babies at a hospital provided glowing stories, sometimes rich in detail about the wonderful care mother and baby received during their stay. Patients for other procedures provided insight as to what could be improved, in an informative rather than accusatory tone. This feedback allowed hospital executives to emphasize a different story"
The piece is littered with tips on interpreting information from social media sites, including the idea of 'reverse engineering' tag clouds to get an understanding of the demographic of the users of a site.
"For example, if you look at the tag cloud on del.icio.us you would see a heavy weighting of technology-related words, such as: ajax, apple, css, linux and Web 2.0. Knowing this helps you to analyze what type of consumer uses that site"
Part of my new role with FUMSI involves helping to commission the articles that feature in the magazine. So, if you'd like to write for an audience of information professionals, then please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be continuing tomorrow with a look at another five articles I've enjoyed from FUMSI and the FUMSI database.