A friend of mine works in a highly bureaucratic organization, which often results in some great stories about organizational… how can I put this nicely… challenges. Last week, we were talking about a committee he was assigned to. They had their first meeting that week and got their charge. They had not updated the design of their Web site in nearly a decade and needed to freshen it up. This committee will recreate content and recommend a new organization of the site to their Web content management team.

A great opportunity to think about the customer experience. Make the knowledge easier to find for the people who use it. A pretty interesting committee, right?

Wrong. Here’s the catch. The organization charged with updating the Web site is charged for each visit (and per click when someone is on the Web site). Someone else pays (another job code or organization) when a client/customer gets frustrated enough to call. So the organization updating the Web site wants to reduce the number of Web visits.

My friend literally laughed out loud when he learned about the committee’s charge. He’s renamed the group the “404 committee” (the standard server error when a Web site can’t be found).

Although I feel sorry for the team that has to do this task, I love the idea. What would you do to make knowledge harder to find? Then, do the opposite.

When I started working on the Web in the late 1990s, a great site gave me a lot of insight. It was called Web Pages that Suck (webpagesthatsuck.com). It has changed quite a bit from the site that helped me learn a lot about what not to do in Web design.

Without naming names, here are my top 5 suggestions on how to make knowledge hard to find (and some of my biggest pet peeves).

  1. Deliberately hide information, particularly ways to contact your organization other than the Web (lots of people do it!).
  2. Build deep, complex knowledge hierarchies – click here for a home network, click here for 3G, etc.. Don’t show people how to get back to the starting point.
  3. Write your knowledge using your language, not your customers/clients.
  4. Treat every customer/client the same by displaying exactly the same knowledge.
  5. Ignore Web analytics and highlight the knowledge you think your customers/clients will need.

How do companies make knowledge harder for you to find? What are you doing that makes knowledge sharing more difficult?

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