Google Usenet search is knowledge management.

Last weekend I was working on a little utility to post to MovableType via email. And I got stuck figuring out how to include files that lived in different directories. The instructions in the book and the PythonWin IDE were confusing and insufficiently helpful. So I turned to the source of all earthly wisdom.
A quick search of the Google Usenet archives found questions from several people who’ve been confused by the same problem over the last decade, complete with helpful and instructive answers. I followed the instructions that Python guru Tim Peters provided a newbie in 2001: no need to mess with the Windows registry; simply include the reference to the desired path in the header of your program.
Google Usenet search is incredibly useful for this type of question. Books don’t have space in 300 pages, or even 1200 pages to cover every conceivable implementation decision and configuration nightmare. FAQs are effective precisely because a patient editor has distilled the sea of knowledge into an elixir of Questions asked Frequently. By contrast, Google Usenet search isn’t bounded by page count or the patience of human editors. Someone, somewhere has encountered the problem that has you climbing the walls, and someone, somewhere has answered it.
Many person-hours of labor and numerous PhD theses have been devoted to designing sophisticated knowledge management systems, incorporating text painstaking tagged and cleverly autosummarized; employing expert rules and meticulously built case repositories. But my guess is that a really good search engine and a deep database of human conversation can beat fancy knowledge management a lot of the time, and most of rest of the time, the Google-Usenet approach wins on price-performance.
Once again, the intelligence in the semantic web is largely human; a person who asked a question, and a person who answered it; the machine merely serves to connect today’s seeker with yesterday’s guru.
Of course, to succeed with this approach, as David Weinberger points out, you need to know how to phrase a query that will retrieve the right antique conversations. “PYTHONPATH Windows” succeeded instantly at finding the answer to my question last weekend. The skill of phrasing a search query ought to be taught in middle school, around the same time kids get old enough to figure out that a paragraph should have a main idea.

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