Collaboration, Groove and SharePoint – History Repeating Itself?

I just read that Groove is being renamed as SharePoint Workspace 2010.  For those of you who are not familiar with Groove or its history, I’ll take you back to the early 80’s. 

Ray Ozzie is the visionary behind Groove and currently the Chief Software Architect at Microsoft (a role he took over from Bill Gates).  At University of Illinois (as many know, home to the NCSA  which created Mozilla, the first web browser on which Internet Explorer is based) Ozzie worked early iterations of some of today’s knowledge management,  collaboration and social media applications (discussion forums, message boards, e – learning, e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multi-player games.

He also worked with some of the pioneers in personal computing and products like Visicalc, one of the first spreadsheet programs that ushered in the age of personal productivity.

Ozzie worked for a time at Lotus Development and went out to form a new venture called Iris Associates which developed a collaboration tool called Notes.  Lotus acquired rights to Notes with Iris remaining a separate entity but doing all of the research and development behind the product.

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Evangelism Marketing

Testing and validating a taxonomy can go many ways.  With a little luck and some hard work, usually it goes pretty well, you watch users click through the structure, find the right terms, and you go home feeling like everything’s in its right place. 

There are always the nightmare scenarios, the tester who can’t find anything and randomly clicks through the taxonomy as though they were sight seeing on a Sunday drive in the country, the tester who looks in the same category for everything… don’t ask me why but it’s always accessories, the tester who freely admits volunteering for this session to escape an insane co worker, if only for 45 minutes…  But I digress.

This last testing experience was by far and away the most rewarding I have ever done. Not because the taxonomy was perfect…it wasn’t.  Not because the testers were brilliant enough to intuit our mistakes… they weren’t, but because almost everyone left the sessions excited about taxonomy in general, and thought it would make their life, at least the part that had to do with information management, better.

I know, its sounds crazy, you don’t expect a positive response when you tell someone that from now on when they create a document they are going to have to use this elaborate structure in front of them to tag it…but they were. Everything from “Its about time”  to ” this is going to make finding things later a lot easier”.  Now certainly a large part of this positive reaction had to do with the fact that the overall structure and vocabulary of the taxonomy really resonated with them, but an even bigger part of this positive reaction had to do with the sense of participation in the overall project the testers felt when truly engaged and asked for feedback. 

What I am really trying to get at here is that taxonomy testing can be about more than just getting confirmation that you are great taxonomist, that people can find what they are looking for and that you will in fact most likely work again. 

Socialization of a taxonomy project through user testing can help to build project momentum and a sense of ownership of the taxonomy well before you ever actually force someone to tag a document with it.  So test early and test often, and try to ensure that when eventual users walk out of the room they feel they have contributed something meaningful to the taxonomy development process.

It may be a stretch to think your taxonomy project will be the subject of water cooler conversation for weeks to come, but if you can get your testers excited enough about taxonomy to market it for you then you are one step closer to a succesful project. 

 Let your users be your evangelists

Politics of terminology

One of the things that we get called in to help with is the set of governance policies and processes that are necessary to make taxonomy projects a success.

There are number of things that need to happen for organizations to be effective in this area:

1. Sponsorship: Someone with power and authority needs to understand the value of taxonomy and nomenclature governance

This person can help settle turf disputes and conflicting organizational requirements. The key is that they are truly engaged and really get it, rather than delegating authority.

2. Ownership: An operational champion needs to own the project. This is the person to whom ultimate accountability falls. They are the one that has to drive communication and get people to participate

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