Corporate Memory Infrastructure Proposal
When I interviewed with Marble, one of the things which fascinated me
most was the idea of a Corporate Memory
Infrastructure. However, something like that is currently as good
as nonexistent. Here are some thoughts how we could try to change this.
There have been attempts to change this. Reminders to encourage
people to use the notes database were effective for about two weeks,
then people stopped using it again. The project directory is not
consistently used, people rather work locally. Even if a project has
a proper entry in the projects directory, often not all working files
are there. And even if that is the case, it is improbable that
somebody else will ever find the useful information which is hidden
there, because the only help to navigate are filenames.
The only effective tool for collaboration seems to be e-mail. I didn't
really see a discussion in notes as I have in newsgroups, for instance
(which essentially works like e-mail. In fact, in Netscape 4.0 e-mail
and newsgroups reside in the same window!). For a while we had this
excitement about ICQ, and I think
most people have it still running, but I hardly ever use it.
email@example.com seems to work best.
During the past three years, I have seen the web changing from being a
toy to being a tool. Why does e-mail work for collaboration? Because
everybody has a mail client open, and everybody has the choice of his
or her favorite client. The same applies to the web browser.
So the basic idea is to use the web browser for collaboration. The
idea is not new. Intranets have been there for a while, and most
Intranets have an Intranet web page. At SilverPlatter I recently saw
how powerful this tool can be, when they gave us access to their
Intranet website at inside.silverplatter.com.
I am wondering whether this technology could work for Marble as well,
and this proposal should encourage people to discuss this.
All the difference: Push technology
There is still one thing missing: People have to be pushed all the
time to use the system in the intended way. As far as I see it today,
the best way to push people is to write them e-mails. For instance,
if the overview document to a current project has not been updated for
a while (say, 7 days), the owner of that document should receive an
e-mail which asks her either to update the document, or to mark it as
closed. If a new project is created and the user does not provide
some basic information about the project, the user should receive a
reminder, with a template document attached.
Roadmap for a Marble Intranet Site
Here is a list of issues, and how they could be resolved:
- Marbles Intranet site should grant access through IP checking.
If somebody tries to access it from outside, it should prompt for
username and password. This will allow Marbles convenient access from
the office and global access at the same time.
- Everybody should have the Marble Intranet page as the default
- There must not be a restriction on the format of the files in the
individual directories. That would kill the whole thing! I
personally don't like to use Lotus Notes, because the editor is a
hassle. Jean-Marc says it is a pain to use FrontPage, as it is full
of bugs and has problems with non-Frontpage files. We must not
require people to convert files (e.g., in pdf), as nobody would have
the discipline to do so (myself included). For viewing, I think it's
fine that the browser will launch the appropriate application.
- It should be possible to submit messages, which appear
automatically on the startup page and disappear after a while (e.g., 7
days). Ideally, the submissions work over e-mail, as I guess that's
a way to make people really use it. It should be discussed whether we
even use firstname.lastname@example.org. Once the messages disappeared, they should
be archived and be available through a search tool.
- The spider, which regularly scans the project directory, should
pick up newly created and updated documents and lists them in
appropriate sub-pages. I could imagine that on the Intranet startpage,
there are links to sub-pages like "What's New", "Recently changed",
- Following the pattern of the project directory (described below),
an education dicretory and an information directory should be set up
(maybe even more, how about an Affiliate directory, People directory,
etc.). People should be encouraged not to throw away interesting
electronic documents they find (e.g., an article on CNet. Instead, they put a copy (not a
link!) of such an article in an appropriate directory. It would be
picked up by an indexer and would from now on be available for search.
Ideally, just URLs would be submitted via e-mail. The system would
automatically download the page, attach some information in html
(e.g., who requested the download, timestamp, etc.) and put this in
the info directory. A submission like this could also take place
using an html form instead of e-mail.
- One of the most important information sources at Marble is the
project directory. The directories in the project directory
should be company directories (e.g., silverplatter). These company
directories should contain one README file which describes the company
and one subdirectory for each project. The structure of these
company-project directories can be arbitrary, but it should also
contain a README file which describes the project.
- Regularly the project directory is scanned by a spider. The
spider builds several project html-pages: E.g., "current projects",
"all projects", "sorted by project name", "sorted by company name",
Following a link would bring you to the project page, which could be
generated automatically as well (reflecting the subdirectory structure
and picking up README files, if they exist). Optionally an index page
could be displayed instead, if it exists.
- The described README files must contain a minimum of metadata. I
picture it as a small number of required items in the form: "Company
Name: SilverPlatter". This metadata is picked up by the spider. The
rest of the file is treated as other information, which can easily be
processed by the spider to build html pages.
- We should have a search mechanism to search through the project
directory. This could be realized as simple as using AltaVista, which
processes several file formats and should be able to index all
Microsoft documents, FrameMaker documents, etc.
- Some of the README files are really required. When one is
missing, the user who created that directory, should receive an e-mail
with a template document attached. It would actually be even better if
the system would put the template document in the right place, and
would put a link to that file in the e-mail message. Then the user
could edit that file simply by clicking on the link. The computer
would automatically start the users favorite text editor. (However,
this might be problematic with mapped drives in Win95, as we cannot
- Similar, if a mandatory entry is missing from a file, the user
who created that file should receive an e-mail notification with
detailed instructions of what is missing.
- And, as mentioned above, as long as a project is not yet closed,
the README (or some other) file should give a quick overview of the
current status. It is the responsibility of the system to notify the
owner of that file if it didn't change in a while.
I don't know how realistic these ideas are, nor whether Marble has the
resources to implement some of them, but as we are knowledge workers,
it is important to think about and discuss these issues. If these
thoughts start discussions, they fulfilled their purpose.