National Archives Conference on Blogs and Wikis - and My Most Productive Hour

May 8, 2006 · · Posted by jfrank

Marvin Kabakoff of the National Archives and Records Administration hosted a 1/2 day conference on blogs and wikis last Wednesday in Boston. Marvin talked about the evolution of records management, Matt Kowalczyk reviewed the use of Traction for a US Department of Defense project, and Mark Levitt from IDC pointed us to the role of Blogs and Wikis in contextual collaboration. Over a bagel, I had revelation on knowledge worker productivity.

Marvin Kabakoff provided a useful context and introduction.

Record keeping has changed dramatically since the etching of records in stone to papyrus. In the last 30 years we have seen a major changes in terms of what we keep and how we keep it. In the future, record keeping will change more rapidly.

We now have email, IM, blogs, wikis and other technologies. We have concerns at archives in terms of how do we keep and maintain the public record. If someone sent an IM where did it go, and where was it saved.

The discussion of record keeping later evolved into a discussion of "What constitutes a record?"

Matt Kowalczyk's presentation (Click here for 3.5MB PDF) reviewed the Liberty Project (US Department of Defense - Rapid Acquisition Incentive-Net Centricity), a DOD CIO funded project with the goal of demonstrating the efficacy of Enterprise Blog software (from Traction) for project communications. He pointed to benefits including a 75% reduction in the status reporting process and a 50% reduction in time spent by end users in the electronic communications management process.

A NARA rep asked how and where we stored the blog archive from the Liberty Project. I opened up a wider thread about what aspects of the blog system should be considered a record. In addition to the posts, comments, and meta data, you could consider the log of who read what when (otherwise known as the W3C web server log) a record. In the context of the DOD project, there was reasonable agreement that the important record was the final Opportunity Analysis which serves as a report to the DOD sponsor and is stored in their archive.

While some folks took comfort in the assessment that an OA could be the material record, I pushed the conversation one leg further down the path. Complicating the issue of archiving blogs and wikis, which can mean taking content off-line after a certain number of years, are the issues of:

  • connectedness - taking down a blog or wiki blows a hole in the knowledge network it is a part and
  • distribution - parts of the blog or wiki record may have distributed via RSS, search engines (and their caches), and email to hundreds or millions of locations in the digital universe.

The group considered these points and considered it a Pandora's box better suited to wait for NARA to release guidance on record keeping in the context of blogs and wikis later this year.

Mark Levitt started his presentation by asking why we are so tired at the end of the work day. Then did a whirlwind explanation by example detailing how knowledge workers busily move between application environments, opening and closing windows, responding to interruptions only to open more windows, and eventually finish something before the sun goes down and its time to rush home. You may be tired just reading this sentence! My apologies.

Levitt says we are moving from the ICE (Integrated Collaborative Environment) age of the 1990s where applications were central, asynchronous and operated in silos to the age of Contextual Collaboration. Against this backdrop, Levitt says:

We perform tasks within work processes. The tasks require multiple applications and information sources. Users are exposed to the complexity and must context shift and interface shift constantly.

The interface shifting process, and the interruptions, slow down the knowledge worker.

Levitt finished by discussing how wiki's and blogs fit in the enterprise context (high on knowledge management, high on ease of use) and predicting that the lines between enterprise applications will blur until we have a truly integrated, contextual application environment. The "mashups" that you hear about and see on the web are a good example.

The talk reminded me of Jonathan Spira's line of reasoning about the high cost of interruptions (I'll spare the details, the cost is A LOT of time and therefore money) and the response from Luis Suarez. Suarez quotes a colleague "We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them."

I learned this lesson in the practical sense that very same day:

  • While stuck in rush hour on the way to Boston, I caught up with all the overdue calls on my April list.
  • While waiting for lunch at Finagle a Bagel, I opened my laptop and breezed through roughly 600 RSS messages from our internal blog which collected over the last two weeks.

Since I was stuck waiting, and disconnected from all my primary web application environments, my distractions were managed for me. The time I spent "waiting" was my most productive hour of the week. When we reach application integration nirvana, I only hope the integrated mash-up that results will let me focus on one task at a time!

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