Thursday, 18 August 2011

Wikis, Docs and Dropbox

I dig Docs; I've mentioned it a fair few times over the last few weeks (although I'm still having intermittent problems opening spreadsheet Docs, which is beginning to irk me...). I've even decided to use Docs to store all my Chartership documents, including:

  • drafts of my PPDP and working notes towards portfolio commentary; 
  • PDF scans of notes and handouts from events I've attended; 
  • notes and ephermera resultant from meetings with my mentor. 
I've got most of these things in physical form also, but I tend to leave these at home and use digital copies when working on MCLIP stuff during spare moments at work. I've set the relevant Docs to be shared with my mentor, who can also edit if he wishes to, but mostly it's for my own organisational purposes. I've used labels to organise and sort away most of the documents, though my initial Docs does run more than a screen-length of recent(ish) documents which suggests I should probably organise some more away! I also use Docs for several other things, including a running shopping list which I can access from my phone when I blank on what I need, which is great but can't be relied upon as most Sainsbury's are 3G blackspots. Overall, Docs does [most] of what I want it to do, and that's good enough for me.

I suppose in several ways Dropbox fulfills the same functions I use Docs for, and possibly does so more elegantly as, with all the will in the world, Docs formats don't (yet) have all the rounded functionality of their Microsoft Office antecedents. It would be of even more use but for the need to install software; as I have said before (and as has been reiterated quite strongly by a colleague from IS), I cannot install software on work PCs without great palaver - so that's right out. Also, I feel that to get the most out of it, all parties would have to be signed up and invested enough in Dropbox to have downloaded the client, which becomes more of a gamble as project groups grow in number. I will have a play with it at home at some point, but don't feel it's likely to take the place of Docs in my heart.

Wikis are something I've never quite 'got'. I understand the principle behind crowd-sourced knowledge-collation, but in practice they always seem flawed in some way. The obvious headline star, Wikipedia, has a reputation for unreliability and malicious editing of records about public figures; this reflects what I suspect to be the wider truth - that wiki information tends towards the subjective viewpoint of its author/s. Wookieepedia, a relatively high-profile geek-variant wiki, clearly strives to be authoritative, and covers every aspect of the Expanded Universe in minute detail; however, often the information lacks sources and referencing, making it unclear whether the covered material is 'canon' (or as canonical as EU gets anyway) or speculation based on oblique references in some slash-fic about walking-carpet-loving sarlaccs [shudder of memory, hung head of shame].1 I should never have written 'it's probing tongue hungrily explored his matted anal region; he let out a roar of horror, tinged with intrigue - his uncle Lumpy had warned him of such things back on Kashyyk].

Wikis are clearly included here for their ability to host collaborative work via documents and dicsussions, however. We use a wiki at work to store information about every aspect of what we do, what other teams do and what procedures to follow in many imagined circumstances. It can work well: however, it is not without its drawbacks. It is password-protected, as it carries a lot of sensitive information etc; however, this alone is sufficiently disincentivising to massively impact its use by less computer-confident colleagues. It is laid out somewhat-obliquely, frequently requiring guesswork about which section or keyword the subject you want information about will be under. It is also authored by only a few designated individuals. This last factor probably serves to add authority to the contents: however, it also means that this content has not been written by the most competent person in the given area, and can frequently lead to bottle-necks in the wiki being updated with new information. Finally, the wiki is the primary source of information, but it is not the only source, which fundamentally undermines it as the first port-of-call when problem-solving.

So, in conclusion, I don't think any collaborative working tool is perfect. But then, I don't play well with others, so would rarely need to work collaboratively anyway! [Professional self would like to highlight that this is levity, and Tom is in fact a great team player who would be a perfect addition to any library team; employ him now!]


1 'It's probing tongue hungrily explored his matted nether-regions; he let out a strangled roar of horror, tinged with intrigue. His uncle Lumpy had warned him of such things back on Kashyyk, but he had never said that the beast's horned protuberance would feel so... good'. I have intense regrets about ever writing this: the Wookiee homeworld has three y's in it...]

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