The current craze amongst the UK musical digerati is a service based in Sweden called Spotify. Simply put, it is a legal way to play any music you could imagine (although there are the usual absences — The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, for example) without buying a copy of the CD or downloading a permanent digital version. Previously, when I thought about subscription-based music services, I was not sure what the attraction would be. I like to have my music with me wherever I am — in the car, on the train, walking to work. On reflection, however, that is just a habit that I developed when I first acquired an iPod. Prior to that, my music was something that belonged at home or (in limited quantities) in the car.
Spotify has changed my outlook. I still have all my music to carry with me, but I also have a vast collection at my disposal when I am at the computer. As a result, I have renewed my acquaintance with music that I would never have bought in permanent form. It is like having a radio station with an amazingly large and personal playlist. I can also decide whether I like something enough to buy it to add to the portable permanent collection.
So why the KM connection in the title? It occurred to me that a personal collection of music (often housed in iTunes) could be likened to an organisational knowledge repository. By comparison, access to a remote and unimaginable database of music if replicated in the knowledge context could be so many things. For law firms there are online information and knowledge services, but they tend to be structured in the way that the service provider dictates. Spotify imposes no structure. Consider this “Spotification” of a domestic CD collection. It is effectively a visual mapping of a CD collection onto Spotify links. The physical asset (a CD) is used as a metaphor for a virtual one. At a more basic level, users can create playlists of the music they like (just as in iTunes, but a little more basic at present).
Another important distinction between iTunes and Spotify is that I don’t have to worry about uploading new content to Spotify. Someone else does that (just as they do in an online legal information service). So we can think of Spotify in the KM context as a place where anything one might want to hear (know about) is available, as opposed to the place where one can only hear (find out about) what one already knows. Surely that is a better position to be in?
There is also a social feature to Spotify. Playlists can be personal (here is all the music I like) or collaborative (let’s share all the tracks of a certain type that we like). That feature could be replicated in know-how systems as a form of joint research (here are the useful resources on a topic of mutual interest). As yet there is no tagging in the system, and it is tied to the internet and to computers (although I gather there is an iPhone client in the works, and rumour has it that a limited offline capability may also be forthcoming). The future looks interesting for music and for KM, but I wonder what will be the ultimate mortal wound for internal knowledge repositories.