I am proud to announce that today the first version (1.00) of the Knowledge Browser for SharePoint has been released to one of Tam Tam’s clients. The development team (Mart, Raymond, Robin, Stef and Wouter) has put much time, hard work and pondering in it to complete this first implementation in time. Cheers guys!
The Knowledge Browser is a customized knowledge base for SharePoint Portal Server 2003 that accommodates high-level navigating through a large collection of information by means of metadata.
I came up with the concept in the summer of 2005, when I realized this:
One of the major advantages of SharePoint is that you can store various kinds of information (documents, lists, links and discussions) and establish relevant properties (metadata) to describe these information items for future retrieval. Unfortunately, the user interface of SharePoint 2003 doesn’t make much use of this metadata yet for high-level navigation. Metadata is mainly used in the search function and on the lowest navigation level (inside a list or document library).
In practice, a search function is mainly used in ‘known item searching’: you know exactly what you are looking for and you can enter an accurate query to retrieve the information. Navigation is used more in ‘topic searching’: you want to explore a topic, not really sure what you will find. Or you just can’t remember the exact title of a topic but you do know in which field to look for it.
Findability is a serious matter, since information workers spend much time on searching and of the time they are creating information, they spend most of their time re-creating existing information. The following two diagrams illustrate this (click to enlarge).
With the Knowledge Browser, we aim to provide an optimal combination of navigation and search to ensure that information workers easily find the information they need.
The Knowledge Browser focuses on both contributing and retrieving information in a SharePoint-based knowledge base. The core consists of a central contributions list and a topical taxonomy (topic structure for SharePoint insiders). Much attention has been paid to create a user-friendly interface, the approval mechanism and the support for various types of information.
- Users can explore the knowledge base by using the main taxonomies topics, events, people (more will be added in the next version), the alphabetical index or the search function.
- The Knowledge Browser supports various types of information, for instance documents, articles, multimedia files, referrals to books or online resources, people and events.
- Information can be posted on multiple topics. Topics cross-link to other relevant topics.
- Users can narrow down result lists by using filters.
- The search function automatically translates alternative terms (synonyms, abbreviations) and common misspellings to preferred terms, for more relevant results.
- Users can subscribe to RSS-feeds with the latest contributions to the knowledge base. There are topic-specific feeds and an aggregated feed.
- The Knowledge Browser supports four roles: knowledge manager, super-user, contributor and reader. Readers consume, contributors and super-users share their knowledge (and consume) and knowledge managers own the topics and approve new contributions.
- Many settings are configurable, like approval on/off, max. number of results per page.
Other features have been planned for future releases. These include:
- Support for online discussions;
- Targeting information to specific audiences;
- Alternative contribution methods, e.g. directly from MS Word, a webpage or an e-mail;
- Logging user activity;
- Richer, more intuitive user interface.
Several organizations have already shown interest in this product. If you are interested, feel free to contact me. Please note that the Knowledge Browser is not an out-of-the-box product. We think a knowledge base should be tailored to the organization it is used in for maximum benefit, so we focus on implementing rather than shipping.