Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Collaborative Tools Project

The Collaborative Tools Project aims to improve collaboration at the University of York. Currently York has no central intranet system and no real support for academic blogging. A dozen or so MediaWiki wikis exist for specific technical teams (those who knew who to ask) but this was rightly seen as not an option going forward in terms of scalability.

As a result, understandably, people have gone off-piste as it were and made use of Wordpress, Blogger, Google Docs and the like, or are running their own servers with tools like Wordpress, Moodle and Drupal.

The Collaborative Tools Project looks to offer blogging, instant messaging, wikis, rich media hosting, discussion tools for all staff at the university. It is not looking to work with students because the requirements for student-facing systems are very different.

Work began a few years ago gathering Use Cases to discover what both academic and other staff at York needed. These can be distilled down to...

  • Collaborative Document Editing - working on documentation, bid documents, research papers ect
  • Project Workgroup - private wikis, blogs, file-sharing etc
  • Public Presentation - public-facing blogs, media rich, communities of practice, aesthetically pleasing
  • Other Stuff - meeting support, sharing minutes, gathering consensus, broadcasting

How The PPPeople PPowered project fits with the Collaborative Tools Project

Interestingly or perhaps predictably, these Use Cases threw up what people wanted and needed but little in the way of what might improve the information eco-system at the university.  Almost nobody came to the Collaborative Tools Project with needs that were community focused. 

This JISC project will create a people-oriented, browsable area of discoverability where people will simply be able to find out about each other, their work and interests. Whatever tools (blogging, wikis etc) we provide for the staff will integrate with the PPPeople project acting as a semi intelligent hub.

Because the PPPeople project is embedded in a larger project, it guarantees plenty of real users providing feedback and use cases during its development.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Brief Project Description

The aims of this project are to help enable collaboration at the University of York by making people and their work more easily discoverable and more richly linked. Currently at York the people directory is very basic (shown below) revealing nothing of a person's work, interests, colleagues or personality.

This project looks to create richer connection between people using...

Above is a wireframe showing a simplification of the sorts of elements we expect to be able to present, including tags, people, links and related articles.

The Caveats

Of course, it would be easy to believe that creating an Amazon-esque recommendation list (below) is easy. Creating these sorts of tools can be deceptively difficult with the development always on the brink of a breakthrough and never quite able to fully deliver.

Having experience of these pitfalls this project will initially aim to implement the simplest technological solution available. We will begin by looking at the known, later extending towards the reasoned and guessed connections. We will begin with explicit connections and later explore semantic relationships.

Rather than beginning with the technology we will simply ask people which social media tools they use with which to pre-populate our knowledge of people. This will take the form of survey. In addition to asking people for their social media usage the tool should allow people to explicitly make connections. 

So that this tool doesn't become a technological folly, presenting beautifully visualised connections between people but never actually being used, the presentation of this data and these connections needs to be embedded in an everyday online environment. By that, I mean that this tool should not be a destination in its own right but should be stumbled across naturally whilst looking someone up or engaging in discussion.