David Weinberger
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Convergence or Hole?

20 September 1999

I love being on panels because inevitably I say something stupid or half-assed and then I get anarticle out of it in which I get to say what I should have said in the first place.

This time, the panel was a a broadcast of "Cybertech," a new web radio talk show, produced by Interdoc, the Montreal-based consulting company that also produces Documation Canada. The topics were document management, knowledge management, content management and management management, and my fellow panelists found themselves talking about the "convergence" of all these disciplines. Here's what I should have said:

This only looks like convergence to industry old-timers (like me and the rest of the panel). It'd be just as valid to say that it's not convergence, it's a hole in the market ozone layer, a vacuum, a rent in the fabric of technology.

The human mind is wired to assume the persistence of objects. We see a leaf falling off a bough and at every instance of its fall, we "assume" that it's the same leaf moving through the arc, not a series of instantaneously replaced leaves. Also, movies work. So, those of us who pre-date the Web (hmm, first comes pre-dating, then pre-nuptials, then pre-cocious babies?) see the separate management disciplines converging because we want to see persistence. But, if you came to adulthood with the Web (or what passes for adulthood on the Web), you don't see convergence: you see a BSH (big stinking hole) where there ought to be software.

Imagine you're at your corporate intranet site and you understand that this is the new platform for collaboration. You want to pull together a project team to build a new skunkworks product or pull some unhappy customer chestnuts out of the fire, or whatever is flipping your bits at the moment. What you're probably not able to do includes:

To the old-timers, all this functionality (and more) is covered by a convergence of document, knowledge and content management (with a soupcon of workflow thrown in). But it is not at all certain that this functional vacuum is going to be filled by old-timer software that somehow manages to "converge" all these needs.

All we know is that there's a hole. Talk of convergence subtly prejudges how it's going to be filled. It's just as likely that entirely new software with new strengths and weaknesses will arise. That's the point of market holes, after all.

To hear the Cybertech radio show, go to: http://www.raidmultimedia.com/cybertechshow/cybertech.ram and click on "Educational Sessions."

(Perhaps I should say that in my opinion, the software that comes closest to meeting the needs listed above is Open Text Livelink. I worked there for 3 years, so I am hugely biased and very uncomfortable making this type of statement. Let the flames ignite