Observations from where technology meets business

personal productivity

Thoughts on technophilia

In reading this post from Danah Boyd I can’t help but think about how much of what she says can be applied to the challenges of information technology adoption in large enterprises, particular those tools associated with collaboration and personal productivity. All too often, as technologists (geeks) at heart, we prefer to only deal with these challenges as tool issues. But the really hard part (and the effort that can make the biggest difference) is understanding what people do in their daily work-life and finding ways for technology to help them be more effective.

As we talk about the wonderfulness of technology, please keep in mind the complexities involved. Technology is a wonderful tool but it is not a panacea. It cannot solve all societal ills just by its mere existence. To have relevance and power, it must be leveraged by people to meet needs. This requires all of us to push past what we hope might happen and focus on introducing technology in a context that makes sense.

apophenia: some thoughts on technophilia

Groove, SharePoint, and OneNote

In Mary Jo Foley's interview with Rajesh Jha, Corporate VP , Microsoft Office Live, we learned that Groove is being positioned "as the way that users will be able to access documents in their workspaces when they are off-line". Jha also is quoted as saying "Groove will be the way you take any Workspace offline."

Unfortunately, this still doesn't clear up Groove's future since, technically, Groove can do this today by synchronizing with a SharePoint document library. Longer-term, it makes sense to tie Groove and SharePoint together. However, I wouldn't expect this to be an easy task since there is significant overlap in function.

In addition, given the timing of the acquisition and the latest releases of SharePoint and Groove I doubt any accommodating architectural changes have taken place yet. To get these working as an online/offline duo we should see some significant changes under the hood, the least of which would be a common storage model.

However, while they have the hood up and are taking apart the engine Microsoft should consider bringing another piece of their portfolio into the mix. Microsoft OneNote is a fabulous personal information manager (a better description might be a personal information harvester). I have been using it to manage all of my "digital stuff" the past few months and have been very pleased. There is still plenty of room for improvement but, in my opinion, it does a darn good job and is arguably the best of its kind on the market.

OneNote's roots are planted in the Tablet PC. However, I don't use a tablet with OneNote. It's my understanding that 80% or more of OneNote users also do not use a Tablet PC.

One result of this heritage is OneNote's use of a freeform page in which you can embed just about any form of media including text, audio, video, images, and files in general (in addition to "digital ink" from a tablet pen). I personally make liberal use of OneNote's notebook structure to keep my growing personal database of information. I am able to consume all forms of digital information (and some non-digital via a scanner) as I come across it now that I have a place to keep it (and find it later). I also make use of OneNote's tagging capability for GTD-like task management.

In addition, OneNote has some simple collaborative capabilities. An interesting feature I haven't tried yet is the ability to host real-time shared note-taking sessions. This sounds intriguing since a OneNote notebook can become an online meeting's virtual whiteboard. After the meeting the shared notebook continues on as part of the team's normal collaborative (and personal information management) mode of work.

You can also share notebooks between computers allowing team members, for example, to work within the same notebook from different locations and during different times of the day. There are a couple of options to do this. From my experience the best way is via SMB file shares. Just point all instances of OneNote to the same file on the network. This appears to work quite well as I have shared OneNote notebooks between my personal laptop and one I take home from the office. Changes are quickly reflected between the two computers.

Teams can also share OneNote notebooks using SharePoint. This method, however, appears to be a little rough around the edges and if there are a number of changes the synchronization process is quite noticeable. It almost looks as if the entire notebook is being transferred during synchronization but I can't say for sure.

This is where Groove's P2P technology could come into play. Groove's synchronization methods are very robust and from my perspective appear to be much better than OneNote's synchronization using SharePoint. I have used Groove to share workspaces between multiple computers in various locations and I was quite pleased with the performance. This was the case even though one of the laptops involved was constantly going offline and coming back online in multiple places.

So imagine having a server back-end and web interface from SharePoint, synchronization and offline capability with Groove, and a rich collaborative team workspace and personal information management client from OneNote. Now that would be something.

Am I managing "my" information or "our" information?

The scenario below is ultimately what we are after when using collaborative technologies. We are trying to collectively manage "information" ("data", "knowledge", pieces of content, files, etc.). Yet, for most of us (including me) we don't even know how to effectively manage our own information. How can we work effectively as a group if we don't have the fundamental skills necessary to work as a group of one?

When do we cross the line of managing "my" information (which is serviced by the technology segment called "personal productivity") to managing "our" information (which qualifies as "collaboration" or "knowledge management")?

To me, it all seems to be on the same continuum. So, how practical is it to enforce a single folder naming or hierarchy convention? In many cases, it may be possible. But for most I suspect the folder metaphor is insufficient and something like tagging may be better since it seems to strike a balance between personal preferences and group needs.

However, I am starting to think the best place to start is to train employees to manage their own information better. All collaboration initiatives are based on these fundamantal information management skills.

A few days ago, some of the senior leaders within our team got together to set out some "standards" for how we capture and manage information in our organization. Specifically, we decided to share information more effectively by storing the files and information we create for various consulting opportunities in a file structure that will make it easier to find and use information. Rather than each person creating and managing their own filing structure and guiding others to information, we're trying an agreed, standardized file structure based on a "taxonomy" we pulled together over a few hours.

Link to Thinking Faster: Organizing Information

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