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Pat Shuff's Blog

information collaboration and libraries

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I have been working with my wife in building a school library for my kids new school. When the school opened this fall they did not plan on creating a library for the kids due to expenses. My wife thought that this was wrong and began a grass roots movement to gets books, bookshelves, and a library computer donated. This movement was very popular among the parents and over 7000 books were donated as well as money for bookshelves, time to build and install the bookshelves, and a computer to checkout and checkin books. Now that we have the basic resources to build a library, it reminds me of a problem I am having at work. How do you arrange information so that it can be referenced and indexed at a later date and how is this information shared with my peers.



What are the basic technologies that can be used to share information?



A web page? A good start but I want to make it a little more dynamic. When I was at Sun we started onestop.central.sun.com which was a central navigation tool into product engineering. It was very successful but didn't capture day to day problems and FAQ data that people posted on a daily basis. It was typically controlled by one or two people thus the data was limited to the knowledge base of these few people and the availability of their time to update the pages. It did allow us to create pointers into engineering so that we could navigate and learn about technologies quickly.



A blog? Blogs are interesting but they don't have enough order to them. They are typically good at recording daily thoughts and stream of events but are typically organized by calendar and not topics.



A wiki? Interesting idea since it does allow for a blending of web information and blogs. Administration of a wiki server is a little complex but I like the idea of something like OraclePedia (Oracle specific implementation of WikiPedia). This might just work so I will have to investigate more.



A portal? We do have an internal portal that everyone has access to and it does allow us to customize it to view my personal interests. The problem with a portal is that it does not allow me to create content but subscribe to existing content. If I go this route I am still locked into the question of linking in web pages and blogs that I generate. It also gives me a view of what I want to see but how do I share this with my peers?



Shared files? I can create a shared file repository with information in heiarchial format but how do I index this data without opening the files? Directory organization of information is complex and different for everyone. I can give people access rights so that they can drop files into a directory and even give them access rights that allow them to update files. The problem is that you need to open the files to read the data. It is much easier to navigate this data with a web browser and navigate it with links. Shared files typically don't have hyperlinks that allow you to go from file to file.



collaboration has always been a difficult topic. There is no single answer for all problems. I have been looking at applying this problem to the legal industry. How do laywers collaborate yet still keep confidential client information from people who should not see the data? It seems that searching and discovery of information is critical to their industry. I know that there are legal search engines to look at judgements and verdicts of court cases. The problem with these search engines is that they don't index and search local information controlled and managed by the law firm. Allowing this data to be indexed is potentially an issue because key words published to a public search engine like Google desktop could lead to a break in the client confidentiality. The same is true for a sales organization. Do I really want to use Google desktop to index my documentation and presentations? Yes. Do I want to index my email exchanges with people inside my company and customers? Not really. This metadata gets shared with Google. True, they have done a good job of protecting this data and not using it malicously but it does become a vulnerability out of my control. I don't think that many CIOs would approve of using a tool that exposes them to a risk that they have zero ability to control or mitigate.

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