Friday, August 28, 2009

Wikis at ILTA 2009 Part 2, SmartSpace Integrates Wikis Into Leading Document Management System Platform


PBWorks is a tool squarely in the Enterprise 2.0 space. SmartSpace attempts to merge the traditional core document management system functionality of legal market leader iManage (Interwoven) with an enterprise wiki, or actually, thousands of wikis. To understand this tool you have to understand a little bit about how iManage's "matter centric collaboration" or MCC system works.

iManage Background

With MCC each legal matter or practice area is automatically assigned a "workspace" that contains iManage folders. These iManage folders function something like a Windows explorer folder, but are located essentially within the application (webparts allow folders or workspaces to be displayed in portals, however). To assign a matter number or other characteristic to a document or email, it is placed in a folder in a workspace. At the "workspace level" proper, however, no information is displayed and no documents can be located. Workspaces, like folders, can be associated with metadata like client / matter numbers, legal service codes, and practice areas.

Baker Robbins has leveraged the curious opportunity created by the "blank" workspace to create and display a workspace-specific wiki. As with any wiki, new pages can be linked and created on the workspace wiki. The home wiki page is currently somewhat "structured," such that documents in iManage can be added as part of a "briefing" at the top of the home wiki page.

Technically I understand that the SmartSpace wiki is hosted on a separate server and is displayed within iManage dynamically based on the workspace information (this suggests that it would not be challenging to show the SmartSpace alone on a portal, say in conjunction with one of the many Matter Pages intranet systems or in an extranet).

Document Management System Collaboration??

I think it is really interesting that a top consultant has figured out a way to add a matter-specific collaborative tool right into the main-line document management system. Providing attorneys and staff the ability to interact with and add context to the key set of documents they work with could very significantly enhance their ability to find and leverage work product, and also could provides an easy way for wiki knowledge-sharing and collaboration to be embedded in the normal attorney / staff workflow.

Suggestions For Improvement

The product was first discussed (released?) in June (2009) so, not surprisingly, I see a few ways that the current SmartSpace approach could be improved to make them more of a collaboration and communications platform.

1) Notifications (Signals)

Notification of changes is core wiki functionality, in my opinion, because it provides a signal of changes and allows the wiki to serve as a communications platform instead of simply an on-line database.

I did not see notifications built into SmartSpace. It should be easy to sign up for notifications of changes to the SmartSpace (and perhaps also the documents in the workspaces?). Notifications work best if the user can select the notification frequency, whether immediately, daily, or weekly digest formats.

In addition, the type of notifications provided can be really important. As noted by my former colleague in "Sharepoint Wiki Disaster," Sharepoint 2007 (a/k/a MOSS) provides the latest version of the page "entire," without a redline or indication of changes. This has limited (though not eliminated) the utility of those wikis.

Notifications are typically provided by email, or, in fully Enterprise-2.0-compatable organizations, through an RSS feed.

2) Ease of Editing

A wiki is supposed to be easy to edit. The edit button should be large, friendly, and inviting. That encourages people to start the editing process. Lowering the barriers to authorship enhances the opportunities for attorneys and staff to add value to the workspace wikis.

3) Structured vs. Unstructured Wiki Pages

Currently SmartSpaces allows users to right click on a document anywhere in iManage and add a document to a "briefing" section on the home page of a workspace wiki. I understand and applaud making it easy to add documents to these wikis.

I am concerned however that limiting where the documents go when they are added will dramatically reduce the opportunity for users to provide context to the documents through organizing and formating the page and set of pages to on which the document is linked. It is the ability of users to control and add to the context and organization of wikis that make them superior, from a knowledge management context, to traditional document databases.

One way to improve the flexibility would be to let users choose from a list which page on the wiki to add in the link. Another would be to have the right-click create the full link, complete with text, for addition into any place on the wiki. A third way would be to have the right-click simply identify and copy a unique URL for the document (this is clunkier).

4) Search

Another concern is search. An organization with enterprise search could readily search both the iManage system and any related wiki. Without federated search, however, the documents themselves and the context for the documents and the text provided by the SmartSpace wiki would need to be searched separately, which is problematic. And search within SmartSpace might be limited to that workspace wiki, or extended to all of the wikis.

5) Security

A separate system would need to map and abide by the same security settings found in the iManage workspaces. For instance, it should not be possible to even view the name of a workspace wiki if only certain people in the firm are allowed to access the matter (the names themselves can constitute information that needs to be kept from everyone except those on the matter team).


Despite these concerns, I am very intrigued by the concept of adding matter-specific wikis into the law firm environment. I have been looking for a wiki package that would allow automatic generation of wikis based on matter opening, and this system certainly fits that need. It remains to be seen if this system can meet enough other needs to rise to the level of a truly useful and adoptable tool.

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