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Wiki, Blogs, Online Office ... arrgh what crap!!

Today as Wikipedia celebrates its 7th Birthday, it can definitely claim to have come of age. Indeed, from corporate to students, Wikipedia is the gateway to knowledge. Wikipedia's value is considered to be of leading students to citable sources, and though it is not considered an appropriate source for citation itself [1] - its definitely one of the places millions go to in order to start their research.

However, apart from contributing to actual knowledge base - Wikipedia's more important contribution has been in changing (corporate) mindsets towards the new tools information technology offers. Thanks to the success of Wikipedia - so many corporate have started their own Wikis, blogs etc for knowledge management within their firms.

Ironically, adoption of new technologies has created new dilemmas for the CIO. Earlier, while knowledge was never recorded, it is now being recorded; but, it is spread between uploaded documents, wikis and blogs. And I am wondering what will happen when we will embrace online office suites? We will then have our information (knowledge + data) spread across Wikis, blogs and office servers. That would be a nightmare!

This thought came to me about an year ago also which I had then emailed to close friends - today the thought reignited while reading this discussion. I am quoting my year old email:

Most Web-Based document management systems are complex - more importanly have too many options which are not at all integrated with the rest of the workflow.
For example: I need to manually copy paste text from MS Word/ Writely into my blog or I need to manually attach an MS Word file and send it by email for review - things are not integrated and those which offer the hi-tech services like sharing are kind of too complex to understand.
So I started thinking about the way out. I first asked myself a question - "what is the difference between a blog and a wiki and a simple document?" Here are my thoughts:
  • A document is private, only the creator or those who he authorizes can edit or view it.
  • A blog is visible publicly, but editing is still restricted to the creator or those who he authorizes
  • A wiki however is publicly viewable as well as editable.
Gradually as the chain of thoughts matured - I came up with a framework for a Simple Document Management System. Here is a synopsis:
  • Documents are best created offline because desktop editors are far mature and efficient than online editors - they make the best use of your computers resources (CPU cycles, RAM etc).
    [Offline creation might still need you to remain online to carry out research needed for the content creation - I am simply hinting to activities like formatting etc which can be done more efficiently offline]

  • Offline storage of documents is potentially dangerous and makes these documents cumbersome to share. (what happens if your hard disk crashes - am sure you don't take daily/ weekly/ monthly backups)

  • So, documents should always be stored online - and to improve the search efficiency - they should be linked to and from other related documents.
Thereafter, how you share a document and what you allow others to do to a document you created defines what the document becomes.
  1. Share a Document for reading and comments
    1. With few people - a shared document on online office suite
    2. the whole world - a blog post
    3. No comments - its a part of your webpages
  2. Allow editing of the document
    1. a few people - a shared document on online office suite
    2. everyone - a wiki
To put all the above paragraphs in a tabular form ...

Self Others
List in Directory View Read Write Modify List in Directory View Read Write Modify Resulting document
Y N N Y N N Executable / unreadable file
Y Y N Y Y Y Someone else's document/ blog which is a part of your reading list
Y Y Y N N N Personal Document
Y Y N Y Y N Blog / Webpage
Y Y Y Y Y Y Wiki
Y Y Y Y Restricted to few people Restricted to few people Document with access rights

.

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