I wanted to initiate a discussion on how and what has to be done to make OpenACS become a even more powerful document management environment as it is already.
OpenACS has the following great features:
- Access Control
- Moving of files
What is misssing?
Now that is a good question. There are many great tools available on the market. The more features they have the less web based they are, the more confusing it is for the user. So what do we really nead to make OpenACS ready? This I cannot tell by now. I think - and that is why this post - it is important to look at the leading providers of Document Management Systems but also to look at reasearch on that field.
Here is what I have found so far:
- People use spatial organization to express relationships between (physical) documents, so the document manager should provide means to spatially organize document representations.
- When collecting documents, users often cannot immediately decide where to file or how to classify these documents. The tool should facilitate easy creation of informal structures out of newly discovered documents.
- People tend to organize their documents into hierarchical structures. The tool should support this activity. People annotate documents so it is easier for them to remember what was important about the information at a later time. Hence, the tool should allow users to associated an annotation with each document. Annotations are also used to express more specific relationships between documents (e.g., "Document A describes a user evaluation of the system presented in document B'"). The document manager should explicitly support the definition and browsing of these kinds of relationships.
- The tool should support the user in finding documents in the personal collection.
- Vendors/Providers - a far to short list
- Omnistar Document Manager - web based, category,description,1GB total, 16 MB max, keyword/category search
- Lotus Domino.Doc - application, Office and Outlook integration
- Dobrica Pavlinusic's Document Manager - based on PhPAnyPortal, undelete, changelog, notes, directories, multiuser with lock
- CambrigdeSoft Document Manager - application, for chemistry, auto scanning, full text search, indexing
- DSFInternet.com Document Manager - web based, private, group, public folders, forwarding, permissions, group membership management, keyword search
- intranets.com Document Manager - .NET, folders, categories, organisation, rights, full text search, drag and drop, virus protection, automated backup
- Adept Scientific Document Manager - equivalent to Cambridge
- sapphire Technologies Document Manager - web based, categories, organisations, file type recognition, version control, search, only office files and graphics, coldfusion integration
- qoobmedia Document Manager - standard
- DrugPak Suite: DP Document Manager - application, TWAIN driver, fax, email integration
- asp.be - Document Manager - web based, type recognition, organization, version control, access log
- nescforge - GForge Document Manager - web based, cvs support, file publication, workflow, title, description, language, groups, part of groupware
- SemIPort's Document Manager - application, two-dimensional, zoomable plane as the central interface component, based of DFKI research, annotations, hierarchies
- Amicus Document Manager - users contribute files in native formats, automatic conversion to web formats (HTML, XML, WML, cHTML and PDF), J2EE, web and java application
- northwrite Worksite - web based groupware incl. document manager (simple)
- Electronischer Leitz Ordner - application, TWAIN, categories, keywords, search, office integration, email
- DFKI Evaluation Center For Language Technology Results
After looking at the I found out that
- OpenACS is already very powerful but some features would be nice
- file type recognition and automated indexing for full text search
- flexible way of defining meta attributes for files and folders with inheritance to subfolders
- Adding Annotations or Comments to files and folders
- search (full text, keywords, folder/subfolder)
- many tools are too simple
- pro tools are to overwhelming with allowing too many features, one looses orientation or becomes a librarian doing nothing else but creating meta-data for files
An interesting thought
Still I felt something was missing. Looking at other platforms like ILIAS an idea came to my mind which I think is very appealing. In ILIAS for every class a distibution list exists. So if you are a member of that group you can send an email to other members.
According to that all we need is to assign virtual emails to created classes to support this feature. But through the combination of user or communities and file storage we could even use emails as the key file management tool for OpenACS.
So if a user wants to store a file to OpenACS he can send a file either to himself or to one of his groups as long as he is a valid member of OpenACS and a community therein. Using OpenACS in intranets one could solve the authentication problem by only allowing mails from one single email server that uses the same user accounts which OpenACS uses via external authentication.
To keep it simple a user can simply send an email. The subject becomes the name of the file and the body the file description. What is needed is to indicate the folder where the file has to be stored. Also archiving of emails should be supported.
Every post is replied by OpenACS as an acknowledgment. Either as a html form or as a txt file containing the unique id of the file, a link to the file, the file name and its description as well as the possiblity to create an annotation or further meta attributes for the file. If the file is stored in a folder that has attributes assigned those are included in the acknowledgment in case the user wants to fill them out. If the user don't reply to that acknowledgment mail nothing happens. In case of a reply OpenACS supplements the entries to the object. The acknowledgment mail can be used by the user locally to quickly search for files stored in OpenACS
On OpenACS side after recognizing the file type the file is indexed for full text search. A conversion to web based formats is nice to have but no necessary. Important is that after indexing the file the acknowledgment email is sent to the user incl. a list of automatic generated key words from the indexing which the user can use as a starting point for indicating meta information
A standard search email with a html or txt based form can be used to let OpenACS generate an email incl. a list of document matches their ids and the links to them. The user can use the id to ask OpenACS to forward the file to another email-address and use the link to access the file over OpenACS after loggin in.
I hope this post made some people start thinking. No matter if you find the last chapter interesting or not I think it is worth discussion if there is a need of improving OpenACS with advanced document management facilites while keeping things simple.
Also I know that with a good but easy concept there are quite a few universities I know who are desperately searching for such a tool.
Why should we let them to by the IBM Document Manger for 40.000 EUR each if they could get OpenACS with a lot less by investing in improving it thus helping also the OpenACS community.
Thanks to those who didn't gave up reading this far too long post until the end :)