Friday, February 22, 2008

A two-headed violinist; Attensa and What I Share I Know

I couldn't resist this post from enterprise RSS vendor Attensa discussing how internal collaboration started at one an anonymous firm.

One reason I couldn't resist was the cute--but not too cute--acronym / motto "Wiki - What I Know I Share" that said firm developed through an internal competition. If it's an acronym, though, shouldn't it be "WIKIS"? Or perhaps without the all caps, "Wikis"?.

The other reason I couldn't resist was the charming picture of the two men playing the violin, one bowing, one holding and fingering (if you've never tried this, take it from a violin performance expert, it's quite difficult to carry off). I'm so used to bowing and "fingering" at the same time that only doing one is quite an odd feeling. By contrast, the collaborative software I've been exposed to thus far does not really create a feeling of novelty, at least for a person used to shopping on the web and writing email.

The primary thrust of the article seemed to be that for knowledge sharing to truly add value to an enterprise, parallel efforts to A) establish technological sharing and dissemination channels and B) encourage a culture of sharing are necessary. Certainly that's a key realization and "lesson learned" of early knowledge management efforts, although it comes close to a truism as it leaves somewhat undefined what a culture of sharing would look like. Here's the key quote:

"[U]sing technology to channel information is only part of the solution. The greater challenge is creating a collegial culture that better serves the real world information needs of the enterprise. While their technology integration is focused on developing a collaborative environment where people can easily share their expertise, their cultural initiative is focused on encouraging people to do so."

Branding and slogans like What I Know I Share are the kind of rallying points that people need to develop a common set of goals and beliefs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Connectbeam syncs with Google

In response to my post about the launch of an Enterprise 2.0 Task Force at my firm, someone named "Paul" without a blogger profile from Connectbeam posted a nice comment, along with somehow self-aggrandizing comment about how this will lead to great return on our efforts. I sure hope so, but it's way too early to tell.

Flattery gets you everywhere, and I followed the link he posted to the latest demo of Connectbeam. I have previously noted that their software integrates tagging with search. I was really surprised to see that they have managed to integrate with Google search, so a search for "aspirin side effects" brings back a list of relevant tags and internal content in a pane right next to the Google results (kind of like the Google targeted ads). This is a great idea. It brings the internal content to where many of the users already are, and is well integrated with the workflow. We don't like to have our attorneys have to jump through hoops to get access to the good content, and this is an example of making it easy for the user and keeping it in one place.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Decent Search v. Good Librarian; Social Search and Iterative Questioning

I enjoyed hearing Nina Platt's tech-savvy librarian's perspective on limitations of search, and the skills that a good librarian has. (I also enjoyed chatting with her and her new employee at Legal Tech08).

I certainly agree with her that, if you're trying to find anything at all unusual or difficult to find, a librarian or skilled researcher is going to be miles ahead of a typical search engine. The libriarian / researcher can grasp and then supply the real context to the query, through iterative questions that the user hadn't thought or didn't know to ask.

I serve as something like a librarian with respect to my firm's internal work product resources, and I have found myself using a similar "patter" when people call looking for a sample brief or statistics on patent litigation. I can help much faster and more effectively if I know why they are asking, including (usually) the specific procedural stage of the case, the jurisdiction, and which side we're representing. Usually the first email doesn't have everything I need to search effectively.

I can't help but wondering if the combination of social search and faceted / guided navigation will bring search a little closer to what a librarian does, by showing some of the possible contexts and refinements. See my previous posts here and here on Vivisimo's entry into the field.

With such a system, not implemented at any law firm yet so far as I know, if the clueless associate searches for "motion to dismiss", they'd get a half-million results. If they can then see and refine / filter by tags other less clueless associates applied such as "jurisdiction" "forum non conveniens" "particularity", not to mention metadata attributes such as forum, they may be led down the right path almost as accurately as a libriarian or practice support / KM attorney might take them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Launch of Enterprise 2.0 Task Force

After months of behind-the-scene work, an Enterprise 2.0 Task Force has finally been publicly launched at my firm, marked by the dissemination of an E2.0 survey on collaboration, an intranet web site, and a (scheduled) team meeting. It's worth a look at some of the groundwork that was laid to make this possible, and why we are starting now.

First, a team from the Knowledge Management Department, led primarily by Doug Cornelius of KM Space , educated themselves about Web 2.0 tools and techniques.

Because you can learn a lot by doing, and we should "drink our own Kool-Aid", the KM Team started using a KM team wiki for our projects (using, set up a Delicious account for the team, adopted RSS feed readers for learning about new events, and two of us (Doug and I) started blogging. Many of us also signed up, or re-energized our accounts, at Linked-In and Facebook. The Goodwin Procter 2.0 Facebook group in particular has become a way for people at the firm to recognize each other's interests in these topics, as well as get to know each other better.

Second, we started to talk to people face-to-face at the firm about what uses these tools might have. Could a wiki be a useful tool for a litigation matter team? Would that extroverted practice area leader like to have a blog as a platform from which to orate?

Third, we drafted a SurveyMonkey survey (yes we used a wiki) to help us identify people interested in E2.0, including potential "early adopters", and to start to spread the word.

When it came time to go live, we were able to get a tremendous amount of information up in a very short amount of time. We have:
  • Lists of who is blogging at the firm already, with links to the blogs;
  • A feed of posts from the blogs;
  • Links to a firm Facebook group;
  • Links to a Facebook group that the last class of summer associates pulled together;
  • A fairly extensive firm-specific tag cloud on Delicious of web sites to educate people further about Web & Enterprise 2.0;
  • Descriptions, in terms lawyers can understand, of wikis, blogs, RSS, and social networking software, and how they might work inside the firm, with links to descriptive videos (thank you Common Craft); and last but not least,
  • A simple non-interactive list of the task members, people already committed (to some extent) to Enterprise 2.0 tools and collaborative methods.
We timed the launch for February 2008 because implementation of Sharepoint 2007 is not far off. Sharepoint's internal communications abilities, wikis, blogs, and RSS feeds from every imaginable page or webpart, should let us implement some of the ideas the task force will develop.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Williams and May on Thomson West KM tools

The first KM session I attended at LegalTech 2008 featured Meredith Williams of Baker Donelson and George May of Thomson West. Some of the time they addressed the West KM work product retrieval system, and some of the time they recapitulated this same team’s presentation at ILTA 2007 about the West 360 business information (see my post on the subject). The primary difference I noticed in the West 360 part was more of an emphasis on client-facing information systems. Oh, and George threw in this stress toy abuse video.

In his discussion of integrating new tools with existing functions, George also had a couple of good points about another type of “red flag” that may arise in dealing with vendors. Given the variety and importance of legacy systems, vendors should not be saying to us “you’ve taken that standard application and warped it too much, we can’t integrate with it.” Most firms are “tweaking” and customizing their apps these days, so vendors should consider some integration part of the deal.

West KM is a work product retrieval tool, well known in the legal industry, that applies West search technology to a firm’s own product. It provides a key aspect of legal context by importing live KeyCite “flags” that indicate whether a particular case or statute is still good law. It was selected and implemented at my firm before I arrived, but training and evangelizing our attorneys on it has been a significant aspect of my work. I am a big West KM fan because of the value and context it adds to our litigation work product.

George also noted, as has been previously disclosed, that West KM has taken the wise approach of letting other search engines (Recommind and Sharepoint to date) take advantage of the “value added” by the flagging and HTML features of West KM and incorporate West KM functionality within their own user interfaces.

Meredith Williams’ firm goes beyond normal, out-of-the-box implementation of the West KM application. In her talk this was framed as bringing the search into the attorney’s workflow, by breaking out parts of the application. One example is putting a direct link to a particular KeySearch topic* on a practice area page (what a good idea!). As is more “normal” for the West KM application, the case flagging aspect of West KM at Baker Donelson can be accessed through an “Insert Flags” button in Word. A click pulls in a KeyCite “flag” indicating the validity of the case or statute at issue and also provides hyperlinks to the original authority and the firm’s other work product that cites to that authority.

*KeySearch is a West KM feature that in effect is a canned search for internal firm work product related to a particular legal topic. The legal topics are those of the famous West Digest system, and the Westlaw attorneys have developed roughly 10,000 of these KeySearch topics, which are arranged in a browseable, drillable hierarchical structure.