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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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Docbase Input in Perspective

Data entry is the linchpin of every information system. It’s obvious that to reap the benefits of an accounting package or a human resources package, you have to pump in all the required data in the required formats. With groupware, it’s not so obvious what these required formats should be. The messaging tools at the heart of groupware do impose minimum requirements. You can’t send an email message (or post a newsgroup message) that doesn’t have From:, Date:, and Subject: headers. These fields alone enable an important class of applications—the email, listserv, and newsgroup archives that collectively form a vast fund of web-accessible knowledge.

The next step, though, is a big one. None of the standard email headers will tag a message as a status report or as a status report for project XYZ. Classifying messages in these ways would be a great benefit. Web docbases such as the one we’ve seen in this chapter occupy a middle ground between email and databases. They’re semistructured like email but extensible like databases.

Since email dominates the groupware landscape, the push/pull mechanism I’ve shown here is a useful way to recruit people to build a web docbase. If I mail you a link to a form generator, you’re much likelier to use that form than if I tell you to find the form’s URL yourself on the intranet site. Do whatever you can to make docbase input frictionless for your users. But capture as much structure as you can. Every piece of regular ...

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