Not Happy!

For the past week and a bit I’ve been doing a lot of research into synchronization techniques, client/server technology, tcp/ip, Windows and Unix sockets and the like. This is all related to the work I’m doing to enable Surfulater databases to be synchronized, either locally across a LAN or across the globe via the Internet.

Synchronization enables you to use the same Knowledge Bases on say your Work and Home PC and have them automatically kept in sync, so you don’t have to manually copy them back and forth. I use Surfulater on a Desktop and Notebook PC and regularly switch between the two, but first I have to copy all of my Knowledge Base files across, some of which are quite large. Then when I’m finished I have to ensure I copy them back. KB synchronization will do all of this for me, without me lifting a finger. The good news is I’ve got a proof of concept implementation working.

So you must be wondering what’s with the Not Happy! Well during my research I came across a particularly interesting article which I only had time to glance at, and put it aside to read in full later on. Well later on arrived last night and for the life of me I can’t find the slightest hint that the aforesaid article ever existed. I’ve searched my Surfulater Knowledge Bases, looked at the last few weeks articles in the Chronological History, searched my Web Browser Favorites and History on my Desktop and Notebook PC’s and I’ve come up completely empty. In complete exasperation I used Google to search for the terms that I thought should locate the Web page for me, worked through pages and pages of results, tried other search terms and after 2 hours gave up.

There is a lesson to be learnt here, and I for one should know it better than anyone. That’s why I’m not happy!

One or many Knowledge Bases and Tree Filters

Their are two schools of thought when it comes to filing information; store everything in one big file or break things up into smaller, easier to manage, separate files.

When I designed Surfulater I went down the path of one big file, thinking this would make Surfulater easier to use, because you didn’t need to go around opening, closing and creating files. It didn’t take long at all for our users to tell us they really did want to use multiple files and Surfulater was changed to suit. Their is no right or wrong way to handle this, although some may disagree. It is a matter of what works best for each individual.

The argument for one big file stems from the point of view that all content should be stored together in one place, and the software provides sufficient means to view and work with various subsets of information, to overcome the problem of managing and working with what otherwise might be overwhelming. For example you could hide all folders except those in a specific branch, or only show articles that match some search criteria. You can think of these as filters which strain out most content, leaving behind only the juicy relevant bits.

Surfulater already has some capabilities that let you restrict the content shown in the Knowledge Tree. For example you can hide all articles except those in a specific folder or hide all articles period, or show all folders fully expanded, without any articles. And there is the Chronological tree view that shows content according to when it was added. These are a good start but we need to do more and will.

Fortunately the tree control I’ve written for Surfulater is very fast and was designed to enable tree items to be shown or hidden at will, without having to re-populate the tree from scratch. You can see this for yourself by using F9 or Show Articles and notice that the tree is instantly updated, even when it contains a large number of items. Without this capability, filtering a large tree would be impractical.

So the groundwork has been laid to enable us to provide more ways to filter information to help you focus on what’s important at a particular point in time. I’ve got several ideas for filters including letting you create your own via say a search string. I’d welcome your suggestions on this.

I need to wrap up as I’m told some of my posts are getting a bit long. I’ll end with a few comments. Multiple knowledge bases currently work best for me. This may change as more sophisticated capabilities are added like filters and keywords, but I somehow doubt it. Trees are well trees, and the bigger they get the more time you waste working the tree, instead of getting things done.

Personal Knowledge Management

I’ve stumbled across several interesting articles on Personal Knowledge Management recently. The first is by Steve Barth entitled The Power of One and was published in Knowledge Management Magazine. Steve’s article discusses the importance of implementing knowledge management systems within an organization and includes information I’m sure will be of interest to all Surfulater users.

Personal knowledge management (PKM) involves a range of relatively simple and inexpensive techniques and tools that anyone can use to acquire, create and share knowledge, extend personal networks and collaborate with colleagues without having to rely on the technical or financial resources of the employer. Implemented from the bottom up by one knowledge worker at a time, these techniques can increase productivity and enthusiasm and help to build momentum that can overcome the technological and social barriers to top-down, enterprise-wide KM initiatives.

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Information overload is a fact, not a theory, and there is evidence that most people lack the skills or tools to keep up in the Knowledge Age.

Steve talks about Personal intellectual capital and how employees can increase their value both within an organization and in a broader sense by using PKM techniques.

Getting a grip on the shifting mass of information is an important tactic, but using PKM techniques and tools, individuals can go farther, to enhance their abilities and career potential. Effectively managed personal knowledge assets become the currency of personal intellectual capital.

Surfulater is being used by a diverse group of people to collect and manage all sorts of information and of course build and retain knowledge. This article should be of interest to all Surfulater users, especially those using it within an organization.

Ontology is Overrated

Ontology is Overrated is a PodCast I recommend you listen to if you are interested in finding out more about organizing information. Clay Shirky gave this speech at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, held in San Diego, California, March 14-17, 2005. Clay talks about why conventional ways of organizing information via. categories and hierarchical trees is flawed and discusses alternatives, such as search. This is in line with my thoughts, some of which are here and comments from Surfulater users our Forums. Continue reading “Ontology is Overrated”

Knowledge Lost

Two articles caught my eye in last weeks Melbourne Age IT section. The first was about two Californian business men who are setting up cruise ships 5.3km of the coast of Los Angeles where they will employ 600 software developers per ship and have them working 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. These foreign workers will be classed as seamen and be able to come ashore without requiring visa’s. The ships will cost $US10M a piece to fit out. At first I thought this had to be an April fools day joke, but apparently they are very serious about this. One has to wonder where we are heading with such goings on. I guess the ships aren’t heading anywhere and what about the workers?

The second article was about the large numbers of qualified IT staff that have been let go from Australian companies in the last 3 or so years in the name of downsizing. It seems that these companies are now realizing that they’ve lost a vast amount of knowledge from this process, knowledge that will be quite costly to recover, assuming of course that it can be. This also ties in with offshore development (and on cruise ships) and makes me wonder whether all of the valuable information that is built up off-shore can be transferred back to its owners, or do they write that off in exchange for the money they save using off-shore development.

As far as I’m concerned building and retaining knowledge and the intellectual property that flows from that is fundamental to the long term success of any business. It’s what gives us the edge.

Managing Knowledge Pt 1

I spend a reasonable amount of time reading about and looking at Knowledge Management (KM) style software. Lots of different types of programs can be used or abused into performing knowledge management tasks. These range from storing bits and pieces of information in Word Documents or text files (or PDF files!), to Outliners and Notepads with Trees to structure and categorize information, to ever more complex programs that morph trees and display them as graphs, or in other visually exciting and sometimes useful ways. For example programs like Grokster use circles within circles where you drill down deeper and deeper to see things of interest. (Surfulater customers who visit the forums will have seen threads about this there.) The higher end knowledge management tools tend to be quite complex and expensive beasts indeed. Continue reading “Managing Knowledge Pt 1”

Information Organisation

David Weinberger writes:

We’ve organized knowledge into trees, from Aristotle to Linnaeus to Dewey. You get a tree by doing the basic thing of lumping and splitting, and then splitting the lumps until you get to a lump that is too unitary or miscellaneous to bear any more splitting. But lumping and splitting has been constrained by physical limitations. For example:

1. A thing has to go in one pile or another. For Aristotle, this was expressed as the Law of Identity (A is A and A is not not-A), a pretty basic rule. Continue reading “Information Organisation”