Knowledge Management and Folk Knowledge: Harnessing the Power of Social Software Applications







Knowledge Management (KM) is a powerful tool that leverages computer networks’ ability to break down barriers of time and space. While KM has been primarily designed for use in business environments, there is some potential for it to be ported in the area of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) or Folk Knowledge (FK). Through KM, we can combine science and local knowledge, and hopefully harness the best science of the digital haves and the best indigenous wisdom of the digital have-nots. This paper aims to explore the usefulness of diverse open-source Social Software to support KM in the area of FK. A survey of available Social Software will demonstrate the possibilities for collecting, preserving and sharing a range of cultural artifacts. However, in the framework of a technologically compliant Social Software application, it is the social factor that dictates the usefulness of any given KM system for FK.




Joel C. Yuvienco, JD/MBA

Director, School of Management & Technopreneurship

De La Salle-Canlubang

Leandro V. Locsin Campus

Biñan, Laguna 4024


Telephone: +632.6700.1111


Knowledge Management and Folk Knowledge: Harnessing the Power of Social Software Applications



There is a folk belief which asserts that “mushrooms pop up the day following a thunderstorm on any given night in September” That is local knowledge. On the other hand, experts state that an episode of heavy rain and some lightning trigger the germination of dormant spores in the ground. That is scientific knowledge - a fact that is cached in Using information technology to preserve items of knowledge lends an additional layer of value. This hints at the potential of Knowledge Management (KM) in social development.


By melding science and local knowledge, one can harness the best science of the digital haves and the best indigenous wisdom of the digital have-nots. In particular, by getting scientists to work together with local people to 'co-create' knowledge[1], folk knowledge can be strengthened and preserved.


This paper aims to explore the usefulness of diverse open-source social software to support KM in the area of Indigenous Knowledge (IK)[2]. In developing an IK system, we draw valuable lessons from social software applications.

There is immense scope to achieve this in the light of developments in Information and Communications Technology, particularly with the growing focus on KM that leverages communication networks ability to break down time and space barriers. At no other time is the role of knowledge more important in a global economy. Yet at no other place is the value of the knowledge source more underutilized than in the local context (except perhaps in mobile text messaging).[3]


Brooking (1999) defines knowledge as information in context, together with an understanding of how to use it. An example is knowledge about drainage in a street, derived from looking at a schematic and understanding how the placement of houses may or may not affect drainage. In the business domain, knowledge serves a useful function at different levels. Borrowing from Karl Wiig’s useful paradigms, she identifies four levels of knowledge: Idealistic (dreams and aspirations), Systematic (survival), Pragmatic (decision making) and Automatic (routine).


As one of the pioneers, Wiig has developed a broad framework from which it can be gleaned that KM stresses the practical, i.e. business value of knowledge. In short order, KM is about creating and preserving meaningful and useful information to its users.


March (1997) explains the framework: “At the heart of Knowledge Management are four processes: generating, organizing, developing and distributing. To carry out those activities, a group needs an infrastructure that comprises the following: organizational units, their roles, and enculturation of knowledge sharing technologies and tools.”



This framework could be extended to Indigenous Knowledge Management.


UNESCO, in reference to the World Bank website defines Indigenous Knowledge (IK) (also known as Local, Traditional or Folk Knowledge) in the following manner:


“[It] refers to the large body of knowledge and skills that has been developed outside the formal educational system. IK is embedded in culture and is unique to a given location or society. IK is an important part of the lives of the poor. It is the basis for decision-making of communities in food security, human and animal health, education and natural resource management.”


Several cross-connected aspects appear to be more or less specific to the nature of IK. IK could be summarized in the following way:



The emphasis on economic survival and subsistence in the context of traditional society highlights its opposition from the domain of business management which speaks of success in terms of building private capital or creating shareholder value. This notwithstanding, management of IK is a strong argument in favor of increasing social capital.


This brings us to KM of Folk Knowledge (FK). KM of FK constitutes capturing, archiving and disseminating social and cultural artifacts of a community’s knowledge holders and users. To preserve the traditional memory entails digitizing content (texts, static and dynamic images, sound). Managing FK indeed requires the use of software which ideally should satisfy certain criteria.


In proposing a framework for developing suitable software, Koopman (2002) listed the following:



Note that the last criterion largely impacts informal human organizations, which in turn are underpinned by psychological and social dimensions. Traditional knowledge holders do not hold knowledge as a matter of individual monopoly but within the social and cultural constraints of a larger community. This suggests a software that requires collaboration – a need that can be met by Social Networking Software, more popularly called Social Software.


Wikipedia, which as will be seen below is itself an example, defines Social Software as “letting people rendezvous, connect or collaborate through a computer network or networks. It results in the creation of shared, interactive spaces. The term came into more common usage in 2002, largely credited to Clay Shirky who organized a ‘Social Software Summit’ in November of that year. Shirky has defined social software as "software that supports group interaction”.


The following is a survey of available software applications whose features variously demonstrate the functionality criteria requirements identified above.


Wikipedia,, is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. This is primarily open global community, so artifacts that are entered in the wikipedia naturally tend to become public domain and hence may not be suitable to secret/sacred nature of entries. Nonetheless, the model demonstrates the collaborative power that wikis can give to community members. A similar application can be developed with a more restrictive access to community members.


Drupal,, is software that allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize a great variety of content on a website. Tens of thousands of people and organizations have used Drupal to set up scores of different kinds of web sites, including community web portals and discussion sites and resource directories. Drupal includes features to enable content management systems, blogs, collaborative authoring environments, forums, newsletters, picture galleries, file uploads and download. Drupal is open source software licensed under the GPL, and is maintained and developed by a community of thousands of users and developers.,, is a social bookmarks manager. It allows users to easily add sites to a personal collection of links, to categorize those sites with keywords, and to share collection across browsers, machines and users.


Flickr,, is an online photo management and sharing application in the world to help people make their photos available to the people who matter to them and to enable new ways of organizing photos.


Geobloggers,, is a site that's built upon two technologies, Google Maps which takes care of the mapping side and Flickr handles the image hosting, scaling, and so on.


YouTube,, allows people to easily upload, add keywords, and share personal video clips across the Internet on other sites, blogs and through e-mail, as well as to create their own personal video network.


There is a whole slew of similar software whose features can address the FK software requirements mentioned above for managing text, photo, video and audio.[4] David Pollard’s approach, rather than simply (and less usefully) trying to define the term Social Software, lists the various functionalities (applications) of Social Software by objective, rather than listing the tools themselves by type of content or by audience.[5] Pollard (2005) identifies the eight, thus:



One powerful feature of Social Software is folksonomies. Its beauty comes from its user-driven nature. Whereas, the traditional taxonomy involves information system designers setting up the tagging system to make sense of the immense types of content, i.e. social and cultural objects, comprising songs, tools, symbols, memes and other ethnic artifacts in the realm of FK, folksonomies are maintained by users who define the tagging system according to the peculiar culture of the user’s community.


Porter (2005) says that “folksonomies let users add ‘tags’ to information and they create navigational links out of those tags to help users find and organize that information later.” He argues that “one of the most promising features of folksonomies is that there is no disconnect between the user’s words and the words on the site: the users words are the words on the site!”


In exploring software for FK, certain issues peculiar to managing traditional knowledge come into play. They step into the realm of patent, local commons, roles of traditional knowledge holders, and the like, on the human organization side and IT-related technical issues on the other. The latter are more manageable though not the least simple. The former are complex yet nonetheless largely contentious.


These implications cut across matters of government policy, corporate decision-making and marginalized stakeholder concerns. More particularly, questions such as royalty-sharing; patent conflict management, urban-rural migration and poverty reduction demand attention. For example, on an issue of social development, rural communities could use some help from agencies in capacity-building. UNESCO’s initiative to promote and share best practices in documenting FK best practices holds some promise. The initiative has so far generated 27 best practices, one of which is Philippine-based.[6]

In designing Social Software that supports social development initiatives, we can pick up a few lessons from Adrian Chan (2005) who argues a case for Social Interaction Design.


He asserts that Social Software “that fail to develop into social practices among their users will fail in the marketplace. Social interaction designers, by designing with social outcomes in mind, can help shape the feature mix and design the user experience such that these sites produce results benefiting individuals and organizations.”


He points out that “[s]ocial software applications work on several levels simultaneously: they enable communication, interaction, and social relations.” Since the three are different kinds of systems, “we need to think of these three separately”. For example, “the recording and distribution of communication as text is different from getting a member’s attention, or, say, making connections based on who knows whom.”


Chan explains the key differences between communication, interaction, and society: “Our primary concern in communication is reaching understanding about what we’re saying: making ourselves understood. Our primary concern in interaction is handling the dramatic character of social performances and our performances as participants, including such psychological features as personal comfort levels, insecurities, dispositions, attention-sharing, and more. Social systems are built on relations among members, and they are maintained only as long as those relations are reproduced. Any online community, in other words, needs to succeed at the very basic task of connecting members and compelling them to stay in communication. Only participation will do that; no software can do that for them.”


Social software engages each of these certainly but differently which is why it’s so interesting. Chan continues: “Its manner of facilitating communication results in searchable archives. Its manner of mediating interaction protects us from embarrassment. Its manner of connecting people permits relationships between some unlikely bedfellows. So in communication, we can focus on how these technologies enable the capture, storage, and distribution of information. In interaction we can look at how non face-to-face encounters are shaped by their removal from physical immediacy and co-temporality. In relations, we can examine the conditions that permit or block connections, with an eye on the groups and communities they support or empower. Technology designers are a feature-driven bunch, as are user interface designers. We tend to think that failed user experiences can be repaired with better-designed interfaces. Social interaction design would embrace and extend this approach, but with the added premise that any time two or more people use a technology for communication, issues pertaining to social interaction become relevant. Be they matters of interpersonal misunderstanding, or of social performance and public behavior, the successes and failures of social software involve a social interface. Now of course none of us can legislate how people should behave or what they should say. So how then do we design social interactions? We don’t. Rather, we design the architecture that enables it.”[7]


Lee Bryant (2005) sums it up like so:


“Online social software is a tremendously exciting area that has the potential to overcome many of the limitations and failings of traditional online enterprise, communication and community systems. It requires a new, more engaging and inclusive approach to the entire development process, from conception and research, through design and development to implementation and rollout.”


However, he cautions: “Instead of imposing centralised one-size-fits-all software and then using a combination of coercion and marketing to encourage people to use it, we should be building smaller, more modular and adaptable software services around the very people who will use them, and they should be simple to use, ideally transparent to the user.”


Bryant therefore argues that Social Software should exhibit the following:








On points of Smartness and Simplicity and perhaps learning from the experiences of the diverse Social Software applications, fresh initiatives are happening in the open source communities.


One such product of these efforts is a Firefox-based (open-source) Web browser dubbed 'Flock'. Launched in October 21, 2005 [8], the flexible software integrates next-generation Web technologies such as RSS content feeds, blogs and bookmark and photo sharing. The browser's new features are all based around new Web technologies fast attracting fans in the online community, as part of a movement which has come to be known as Web 2.0. All of the features both reflect popular usage within early adopter elements of the Web and are squarely aimed at providing collaborative Web browsing features.


On the Social point, consider how Peter Kollock (1998) puts together certain design principles for communities:


Axelrod's[l1]  (1984) requirements for the possibility of cooperation:


Ostrom's[l2]  (1990) design principles of successful communities:


Godwin's[l3]  (1994) principles for making virtual communities work:


Still, Chan, in a blog posted on November 03, 2005, 2:46 pm[9], puts it thus:


“Because we're talking about technologies, we have a tendency to want to describe social software in terms of what it does. So we attach predicates like "social" to software, and suddenly a new breed of technology exists. But all software is useless without its users, and their practices of use. And that social software now describes countless companies, sites, communities, applications, tools, etc., doesn't put them all in the same category. Furthermore, our adoption of these technologies doesn't mean that we're becoming more social, whatever that would mean (though there is a strong contingent of thought out there in favor of the democratizing and decentralizing trend of social software, and I'm all for it).”

In conclusion, while feature-driven efforts continue to drive the innovation aspect of Social Software Applications, it remains to be seen how far these technologies would enable a truly socially-aware management of folk knowledge. Meanwhile, culture as we know it now may no longer be the same as our children will know it tomorrow. Whatever direction it will ultimately take, preserving culture is a good place to start. Now why is it that mushrooms are associated with elves? Perhaps Google has some scientific answers.


Further Reading/References:


Brooking, A. (1999). Corporate Memory: Strategies for Knowledge Management. London: International Thomson Business Press


Bryant, L. (2003). An introduction to online social software methodology: Version 1.0, 18 April 2003,; Smarter, Simpler Social Retrieved November 05, 2005


Chan, A. (2005). On Social Software, Online Community, and Communication Technology. Retrieved November 9, 2005


Domingo-Morales, M. C., (2002). The Role Of Intellectual Property Rights In Protecting Traditional Knowledge (The Philippine Experience) Retrieved November 9, 2005


Gaved, M. and P. Mulholland (2005). Grassroots Initiated Networked Communities: A Study of Hybrid Physical/Virtual Communities. The Open University Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences – 2005$FILE/HICCS38_Gaved_Mulholland.pdf Retrieved November 05, 2005


Fien, J. et al (eds). (no date). Indigenous Knowledge: Module Five in Learning For A Sustainable Environment. UNESCO-ACEID Retrieved November 09, 2005


Koopman, B. R. (2002). Software Tools for Indigenous Knowledge Management. Bachelor of Information Technology Honours Thesis, School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland. Retrieved October 05, 2005


Krishnan, G. and G. Kasinathan (2004, January 09 )“Local Commons: Bridges Across the Digital Divide. Retrieved October 05, 2005


Kollock, P. (1998). Design principles for online communities, PC Update 15(5), June 1998. p. 58-60


March, A. (1997). ‘A Note on Knowledge Management’ Harvard Business School Research note 9-398-031, November 26.


Meskill, J. (2005, Feb 14, 5:55 PM ET). Home of the Social Networking Services Meta List Retrieved November 05, 2005


Pollard, D. (2005, Nov 2, 4:33:28 PM). The Social Networking Landscape Retrieved November 5, 2005


Porter, J. (2005, April 26). Folksonomies: A User-Driven Approach to Organizing Content Retrieved October 05, 2005


PCARRD DOST (2001). Enhancing Mushroom Productivity in the Cordillera", HARRDEC - PCARRD, and facts.htm


Rheingold, H. (2003, May 08, 10:13 AM). Smart Mobs Blog Mob. Historical Roots of Social Software Technologies of Cooperation Retrieved November 8, 2005


Tripathi, N. and S. Bhattarya (2004). Integrating Indigenous Knowledge and GIS for Participatory Natural Resource Management: State-of-the-Practice 17, 3, 1-13. The Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing Countries, Retrieved October 04, 2005


UNESCO Best Practices Website. (no date). Retrieved November 10, 2005


Wiig, K.M. (1999). Comprehensive Knowledge Management Working Paper KRI #1999-4 Revision 1 Retrieved November 10, 2005


[1] Katie Mantell in a June 06, 2004 SciDev.Net article entitled “Science communicators 'must respect cultural context'”

[2] IK is also known as local knowledge [LK], folk knowledge[FK], people's knowledge [PK], traditional wisdom [TW]or traditional science [TS] ( For purposes of this paper, primary reference shall be made to FK.

[3] Domingo-Morales (2002) reports the inadequate attention given to documenting TK in the Philippines.


[4] A project (The Spoken Word) involving dynamic tagging of audio data (e.g. mp3) is underway at Northwestern University (

[5] See Judith Meskill’s directory of current Social Software


[7] Oct 24 2005 1:33 PM

[8] Renai LeMay “Advanced browser gives taste of Web 2.0”, ZDNet Australia,2000061733,39218173,00.htm


 [l1] Axelrod, R. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.


 [l2]Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 [l3] Goodwin, M. (1994). “Nine Principles for Making Virtual Communities Work.” Wired, 2.06 (June):72-73