"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Plone for KMS

I'm back from my blitzreise to Torino for the UNICRI Knowledge Management System Kickoff meeting. We had participants from all over the Balkans and the Caucasus as well as European Commission and various NGOs. We had two days of meetings, mostly of a political or project-level nature, and two evenings of programmatic socializing. For those not familiar with the international relations way of things, this socialization is a key part of the way things are done and actually is critical in terms of system acceptance and buy-in.

Unfortunately, for such a brief trip, the air travel was brutal and I never had a chance at recovering from jet-lag. To sit in meetings all day and then wine and dine until after midnight is hard on one's endurance when you're well rested. Trying to do it the day after a 22-hour trans-Atlantic flight is near suicidal.

That said, the food was outstanding--I'd not known what Piedmont and Langhe food was about until this trip. Far more meat than I'd expected. Also, I have a much greater appreciation of the Nebbolo grape and the fine Barolo wines.

Its interesting that the topic of this KMS is what we in the nonproliferation business call illicit trafficking in CBRN materials. CBRN is chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear -- all the well-known weapons of mass distruction. So we had participants from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Checmial Weapons, and even experts on the Biological Weapons Convention. It ties in very well with my previous work building information systems and websites for the IAEA's Iraq Nuclear Verification Office.

But, back to Plone... the third day, after the regional participants had departed, we sat down together with the UNICRI staff, including their webmaster, and talked over the direction the program should go. The program lead is thinking in terms of initially creating a wiki that can later be expanded to other options and he's quite naturally concerned that once content goes into a wiki, he'll be unable to repurpose it as the portal matures.

Another key element is what they term "sustainable training." Right now their small staff has difficulty providing the world-wide demand for instruction in terms of curriculum availability, class cost, and assurance that participants will carry the material back to their colleagues and spread the knowledge. We hope to integrate various distance-learning technologies into the portal and begin work on a product to deliver customized scenerio-based on-demand course material.

System security is another requirement that was mentioned and I find it a very strong plus in the Plone column relative to PHP-based systems. Also, since I'll be involved remotely with only a couple trips per year over to UNICRI, we absolutely have to have a robust TTW capability.

I've come away from the meetings feeling certain that Plone indeed will do everything they currently envision (which is actually quite modest) and provide the growth opportunities that I know their system will need as it matures and as their user community expands its appetite for information.

Next step: Take my generalized UNICRI KMS prototype and transform it into a UNICRI-Sandia portal where we can share discussions online, provide a sandbox in which they can experiment, and host a development area for testing their vision of a wiki combined with distance-learning tools.


On a totally different subject before I close this afternoon, I'd like to quote Randall Stross in today's New York Times. He was discussing the Single-Era Conjecture, the putative law that makes it impossible for a company in the computer business to enjoy pre-eminence that spans two technological eras. Near the end of the article Stross quotes Microsoft's Steven Ballmer on market share:

At the company’s annual meeting in 1994, when he was overseeing sales and Microsoft was enjoying its moment of triumph over competitors, he shouted at top volume: “It’s market share — market share! market share! market share! — that counts!” He continued: “Because if you have share, you basically leave the competitors” — here he grabbed his own throat for emphasis — “just gasping for oxygen to live in.”

His mock asphyxiation of competitors was later stripped out of its jokey context by government antitrust lawyers. But the imagery is no less apt now than it was then, except that the roles have reversed. As Google continues to gather market share and the Single-Era Conjecture dictates Microsoft’s eclipse, it is Mr. Ballmer’s own online services that now are gasping for oxygen.

I am reminded of Eben Moglen's comments during his World Plone 2006 keynote about open-source as the new software development paradigm. I'm not too worried about SharePoint when it comes to the CMS world these days, but in terms of market share, we should be careful about the other open-source CMS and how this effects the OS IT ecosystem within which the Plone community lives.

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