Sunday, January 07, 2007

How to become a communication paranoid

In the last week I found myself thinking or discussing about which was the most suitable container for different pieces of information. In one case it was a planning doc: was it best to have it shared on the CVS or published on the wiki? A similar question arose about a to-do list for restructuring activities: keep on sharing the same excel list, or have the list inserted in a bug tracking system? Same question for a project glossary: wiki, excel or a word document?

One common choice factor between the different activities, is ease of use. The shape of the container should make it easy for the users to feed the information needed. One thing you should be aware of is that when people talks about “the users” they often intend themselves, or the people who provide the information, which should generally be a minority of users, compared to the readers, who generally get the most benefit from the shared information. In this case ease of use turns out to become accessibility and it’s probably the primary factor to consider.

But what I am getting paranoid about lately, is finding the optimal way to attach the necessary meta-information to the provided information. Context and collateral informations might be in the e-mail in which I am sending a word document as an attachment. But the user is reading the mail, printing the doc, and showing the doc to somebody else, without some crucial extra info such as “this document is bullshit, the real one will be prepared next week”. To avoid information abuse, I find myself using different tools just to ensure that information is handled in the proper way. So a common weakness of wikis, such as the not-so-easy printability of the contained information, becomes a plus when I don’t want the information to be printed (because it’s evolving too fast).

Clearly, meta-information can be attached in many ways, but sometimes implicit meta-information is a more efficient way to carry it.

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