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Personal toolkit-Context is concentric

By Steve Barth

This month’s column elaborates on a theme I mentioned in January, desktop index and search engines, because I think it is one of the most important categories of personal knowledge management tools and points to one of the biggest failings of so many enterprise document management solutions: addressing the productivity of individual knowledge workers in the context of their own responsibilities and tasks.

People often say that knowledge is “information in context.” Context is important because before you act, you must think and decide. You must make sense of the information. Context is what turns a document from information into explicit knowledge. You read it, combine it with knowledge already in mind, and realize new tacit knowledge. The closer a document is to you, the more context it has for you and presumably the more knowledge value. Especially if you wrote it or it was written for you. When you look at it again, you remember the circumstances and all kinds of experiences are recalled. The context is reconstituted.

On the other hand, the more remote the source, the greater the chance that a document will lack sufficient context to add much to your knowledge. It’s quantity, not quality, that makes the Web such a valuable source of information.

The same thing is true when you are looking for someone instead of something. The people you are already communicating with are the most important nodes in your network and the most likely human sources of information and knowledge. If they don’t know the answer, they are at least more likely to understand your question and refer you to someone else. So the e-mails you send and receive are the best pointers to whom you should go to first.

So I suggest that context is concentric, spiraling out from the individual through the team, company, community and world at large. If you are willing to consider my inside-out view, one implication for KM tools that deal with documents is that the search should begin on the desktop.

Index of indexers

A number of options are available for personal applications that locate files on your desktop and laptop hard drives and network servers, so that e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, HTML and graphics files can all be retrieved with a single query.Previous columns mentioned two worthy vendors in this category, Enfish and 80-20 Software. This month we look at three more entries. All five—as well as others—are designed for bottom-up knowledge management.

The basic premise is to create an index of all the words in all of your documents in advance. That can take hours. But once the initial index is complete, updates are quick. More importantly, searching for documents when you need them is almost instantaneous, so you never really have to stop what you are doing to find what you need.

All three of the products below offer powerful search methods beyond simple keywords, options that become increasingly important as the number of documents to be searched increases. That happens when you reach beyond local drives to the network and Internet—but it can also be an issue if your personal repository goes back more than 15 years, as mine does.

All three also include a feature I think is essential in this category: built-in viewers that let you see into the documents without having to launch the original application used to create them. Contents can be cut and pasted into new documents.

They also jointly indicate a trend toward using desktop search tools as a platform for going beyond your own machine to search network and Web locations as well.This type of program really takes advantage of a computer’s storage and processing power, so performance will suffer on slower machines. All three applications below are releases that date from the first half of last year, so hopefully we will see improved versions soon.

ISYS:desktopOdyssey Development

ISYS indexes more than 100 file formats on local and network drives for structured, semistructured and unstructured information such as e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and SQL databases. Searches can take advantage of advanced language interpretation and customizable “synonym rings” tailored for the vocabulary of a particular field. Results are displayed by relevance and can be viewed in fast draft or WYSIWYG format.

Documents are automatically categorized as they are indexed, and users can be notified if new information is added to the database that matches his or her areas of interest. Material from the desktop or Web can be dragged and classified in a customizable “knowledge warehouse.” ISYS:spider (included) will also crawl designated external Web sites for indexing.

ISYS:desktop retails for $275 and can be downloaded for preview.

dtSearch Desktop dtSearch

The Desktop version of dtSearch operates much the same way. It boasts more than two dozen search options ranging from concepts and synonyms to fuzzy searches that will include misspellings of the search terms, natural language queries and variable term weighting.

The built-in Web Spider will include specified Internet sites in the index and distributed searching feature explore include local and remote repositories from a single interface.

Desktop sells for $199 and can be downloaded for a trial run.

DioMorfo XL1Delphes Technologies ()

DioMorfo offers searching with “morpho-contextual” analysis of documents, including PDF, Web and e-mail files, on local and network drives in more than 225 formats. The linguistic basis of DioMorfo searching is intended to improve the identification of the most relevant documents.

Designated Web sites are indexed without permanently downloading pages. Programmable agents perform search, acquisition and categorization tasks on schedule. DioMorfo XL2 and XL3 versions add Spanish and/or French indexing and searching from a single interface.

DioMorfo is offered on the Delphes Web site for $79 to $139, depending on the number of languages.

Steve Barth writes and speaks frequently about KM, e-mail barth.km@global-insight.com. For more on personal knowledge management, see his Web site global-insight.com

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