collaboration


Something I learned when using Attensa, but that works very well in our current (test) implementation of NGES, and should work in any RSS/Atom feedreader that dumps blog entries into subfolders in Outlook. I've been using what I've found to be a very efficient way to read Atom/RSS feeds within the folders in Outlook, but it requires Outlook 2003: use a very simple search folder.

NGES, by default, puts each feed into a separate folder under a top-level "Feeds" folder. Normally, you'd have to open each folder individually to read it, which doesn't lend itself well to the type of "skimming" reading that many feeds require (I'm looking at you, deli.cio.us/popular).

Here are the steps:

  • Right-click on "Search Folders" in Outlook 2003, select "New Search Folder"
  • Select Custom – Create a custom Search Folder Click "Choose" to specify search criteria
  • Call the new folder whatever you want (e.g. "All Feeds") Select, for the folders that will be included in the search folder, the NGES "Feeds" folder only, and leave "Search in Subfolders" turned on
  • Click "OK" on the warning that you have not specified any criteria
  • When the search folder populates, make sure that the view is arranged by folder (top of the view)

Voila! A single folder with all of your unread RSS/Atom feed items. You can select a "feed"/"folder" by clicking on the sorting group title (which has the feed name), and actions performed against that title are performed against all the feed entries: you can catch up on a feed and delete all items, for example, by selecting the folder and hitting "Del". You can go from item to item by using the space bar. Since the search folder is just a view, whatever you do to the entries in that folder is done to the original items.

Advanced capabilities:

  • hitting the space bar will go through the items and to the next unread entry, but depending on how you have Outlook configured, the item may or may not be marked as "read" automatically (mine is configured to not "mark as read").
  • Because this is a search folder capability, you don't need to limit yourself to just one view: the filters can be customized even further, and you can have separate, independent views of your feeds. You can aggregate from all your feeds only entries with specific keywords (I have an "enterprise architecture" and an "XML" view) into a single view, or categorize your feeds into groups by using search folders that only view specific subfolders under "Feeds".
  • You can categorize and search by date, subject, author, anything you want, and the view is populated automatically by Outlook's quite powerful search folder capabilities.
  • You can see how many unread items are in your entire set of feeds (the NGES "Feeds" folder only allows you to see how many unread items there are in each feed)
  • If you're really geeky and are using the GTD Outlook add-in, you can even create tasks and events off blog entries ("Read this later", "Comment on this blog")

Important note: remember as you're investigating possibilities here, that each entry in an NGES feed is a "Post" item, not an email item. I found this out the hard way after trying to troubleshoot a search folder that relied on an email-specific property, when the fact that the icon for the entries is a "post" icon. In my defense, I had the icons turned off at the time.

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This is probably the best-written review and preview of the functionality in Office 12 I’ve seen so far. Lots of screenshots.  Like the ribbons, but that’s going to be a major interface change for users: how many will go right in and click the “view old-style menus” on first launch?

I went to the local SharePoint user group meeting yesterday and was pretty impressed with the integration with the next version of SharePoint (which is not fully addressed here), but the workflow and wiki/blog/RSS capabilities for SP that integrate right into Office are very nice. I’m not in love with the current version of SP as a blog tool: the permissions alone to allow comments without allowing full posting rights are a nightmare that no one has been able to implement correctly (without it being a maintenance nightmare), and you can’t really blog from Outlook or any other app in Office in any way that has meaning for the average user. That doesn’t stop people trying to use it for blogging: give someone a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.  But the next version… ahhhh, the next version.

Isn’t that always the case?

Strangely enough, the presentation mentioned that it was only supposed to be shown under NDA, but no one there signed anything.  I know I didn’t.  So how much can I talk about it?  Can I mention the Deleted Items folder?  The one we’ve been asking for since, oh, the Mesozoic era?

I had mentioned del.icio.us in some meetings last week at work, because I am a strong believer in their “ad hoc taxonomy” approach (which allows end users to think about classification after the data has already been entered, not before where it will raise the bar for data entry). As it turns out, Yahoo! seems to agree: they just bought ’em. Genius move for them, as del.icio.us willl integrate nicely (philosophically as well as technically, one hopes) with their previous purchases Flickr and My Web.

Note that I don’t believe that this means formal taxonomies are useless or pointless or in any way inadvisable: quite the opposite. They are necessary on one end of the spectrum (e.g. the Enterprise Portals of the world) where structured information is a must. However, they are generally too complicated for the average user who just wants to send an email or post a document, which means that a rigorous, structured taxonomy is actually a significant barrier for data classification. Users will prefer to use a collaboration mechanism that doesn’t require a taxonomy, and also unfortunately doesn’t have any public way to perform searches on the data across users: Outlook.

I believe that there is a standard bell curve on this: along one extreme, rigorous taxonomies with strict data classification that requires its adherents to fully grok both the data they’re putting in and the *whole* taxonomy (not just the little bit they are using, otherwise how would they know it’s in the right place?). Along the other extreme, completely unclassified data with no taxonomy, no useful metadata, and no search/indexing capabilities. The problem? Unfortunately, because we don’t currently implement any tools that hit the middle of that bell curve, almost *all* of our data is ending up on this extreme: un-indexed, un-searchable, un-reachable by anyone save the original data creator, in an Inbox, a home folder or a SharePoint site only a handful have access to.

In the middle, there are less rigorous taxonomies that are user-defined in an ad hoc fashion, similar to the way del.icio.us does it. The user defines the tags that are useful and significant to them, selecting not only from their own classifications but from the classifications that the masses have associated with the same or similar data. This “mob-developed” tagging definition (call it “mogging” or “mobtagging” to give it a nice trendy neologism) does two things: (a) it reduces the amount of work required to tag/classify data, which makes it more palatable to the user, and (b) it actually demonstrates to the user the benefits of a taxonomy or tagging system because they are using it directly on their own data. They participate in the taxonomy and the data classification without thinking about it, because (and here’s the important part) the tags are public knowledge.

However, even with del.icio.us I believe there’s something missing: a human eye above the morass, gently nudging the tags in one direction or another. I’m not talking about just fixing typos: it’s about noticing that particular links and particular content and particular tags are associated, so it would behoove the company to tag other, related links with the same tags, suddenly making them available via the search and tagging terms that the users are already using. This is something that is not feasible at the internet level, but is definitely achievable at the enterprise level.

Of course, there’s no one tool to get there immediately, and I don’t really believe that this “human eye” concept is automatable using today’s technology anyway: maybe Google has something in the works (and in fact, one could argue that Google Base is a step in this direction). However, the key to all of this is collaboration, indexing and search, and integrating these things across all the tools that end-users use to publish their information. It’s why you’ll constantly find me ranting and raving about collaboration and publishing information much further than we do today, in ways that the users (not the I.T. people) find easy to manage.

Indexing: X1 Enterprise Edition (indexes and searches across file stores, SharePoint, email)
Collaboration: SharePoint Portal, del.icio.us, Groove, Outlook, blogs, Flickr

Rant over. For now.