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The Internet Technology

Methods for Information Distribution? 38

Prep asks: "We're all faced with a glut of information. Everyone where I work seems to use email as their primary means of information distribution. However, thanks in part to huge file attachments and a massive influx of spam, email delivery times are now apparently exceeding the times that our user base deems acceptable, so I've began to wonder about other means of informing users of changes to information they deem important. Ideally, the user would subscribe to various feeds (changes in their network share filesystem, various intranet webpages being updated, RSS feeds, etc) and notifications of changes to those sources would be pushed to them on an automated basis. I'm wondering if an IM based solution might not be useful here. I can't imagine this is an isolated problem, and wonder what other /.'s are doing to address it."
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Methods for Information Distribution?

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  • Agents (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ghostlibrary ( 450718 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:34PM (#7401156) Homepage Journal
    Basically, we're back to the classic idea of 'agents', things that hunt down info for you, then distill it and order it and present it to you.

    Fascinating field, but darn tricky. New waves of paradigm shifts (okay, jargon changes) come and go, but the need for good agents remains.

    Currently, the best agents are still, well, graduate students and secretaries.
    • For internal communication, the concept of agency is not necessarily required as there's not much "hunting down" to do. The idea of RSS feeds makes good sense to me. Employee N needs to get the announcements about projects X, Y, and Z, so they subscribe to the RSS feeds for those projects -- switching from sender-push model to a reader-pull model cuts down on the clutter quite nicely (and distributes the network activity over a longer period of time). If the user needs an agent to tell them who has the info
    • Looks like it. Guess it's time to pull all the Microsoft Bob disks out of the nuclear waste dumps and start selling them ;).
  • We're about to try a different way of communicating with the client about project status and issues. We're going to use a blog system, allowing posts and responses to issues as they arise. We plan on using Squishdot [squishdot.org] in Zope [zope.org].

    A full-blown problem tracking system is more than we need, but email makes it somewhat more difficult to ensure that everyone involved can see and participate in a whole thread about an issue. We can also set it up so people receive an email to notify them when someone has added to

    • We can also set it up so people receive an email to notify them when someone has added to the thread.

      Yeah. Right. So now I get a message that says I need to go look at something else, rather than a message with actual content. Great.

      Why not just set up an e-mail list? Set it for "reply to list by default": not a good idea for public lists, but reasonable for internal lists where you don't really want private replies.

      Or ditch the e-mail notification for the blog, so I can participate or not, as I choos

      • Why not just set up an e-mail list?

        Email lists and web sites are different. They are different in style of interaction. They are different in the way they present information. They are different in the way they archive it. Email notification of updates to a web site should definitely be optional.

        If I send updates by email, they come in bits and pieces delivered to the user at possibly inopportune times. If I use a web site, the user can view the current status when they want.

        If I send all of my pro

  • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:46PM (#7401290) Journal

    True, email is a great way of broadcasting information using little effort on your part. However, there is an even easier solution: use the "page" feature on your office phone!

    You'd be surprised at the response you get. Everyone in the company will get to receive your important information. I use page for everything:

    "Hey, there's a new memory leak in our code! I think it has something to do with the GUI. Whoever screwed up, please fix it right now. Some of us are trying to work!"

    "Just wanted to let you all know that I'm uploading a change to TreeViewWindow.cpp right now!"

    "Can one of you secretaries put some new coffee in the coffee machine in the kitchen? We're all out."

    It's unfortunate that technology has blinded so many of us to much simpler solutions to our communications problems. The next time you need to disseminate information to your work associates, don't use email: hit that page button instead!

    GMD

    • That only works within a limited scope. What if you're trying to send to everybody in several offices? What if only certain people are supposed to know? That's good if everybody in your office needs to know, though. And if you have paging access (some sites lock down so only the receptionist, for example, is able to page).
    • I know you're trying to be humorous, but there's not much difference between paging the whole office and emailing the whole office.

      Hunting for some other solution is just looking at the symptom. Interoffice email is clogged with domain-wide announcements of things that usually have very little to do with the majority of users. What we really need is a reformation of email practices; better targeting of the audience is a good start. If the email system doesn't support group addresses, or makes it difficult
    • I also believe you try to be humourous, but "pager phone" is really becoming a real plague in some offices...

      Why would someone disturb everybody in the office with something that isn't urgent?

      It breaks concentration and it most of the time an usually an useless call or a call for 1 or 2 persons.

  • WikiWiki (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr. Bent ( 533421 ) <ben@i[ ]com ['nt.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:48PM (#7401314) Homepage
    At my company we use WikiWiki [c2.com] for documenting everything from internal code management procedures to HR policies. It works great.

    However, I work at a pretty small company. I don't think that a WikiWiki site would serve the needs of 5000 employees, simply because you don't get the "personal responsibility factor" check and balance for making changes to the Wiki. I can see it now....Fred in accounting says that we all get 20 weeks off a year! Horray!
    • I attempted to set up Twiki since it seems to have the best feature set...and I gave up after 4 tries over 2 weeks. The biggest problem was attempting to get it to behave with other existing web apps without reconfiguring all of them to Twiki's preferences.

      Too bad, too. I'm slowly dragging the 'openly ignorant' into seeing that there's something beyond either rolling your own or buying and living with bad investments. Twiki raised quite a few eyebrows, though not enough to get a spare machine just for

  • methods (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mugnyte ( 203225 ) * on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @06:54PM (#7401376) Journal
    some ideas

    more links to shared-drive files rather than copies of such in the emails

    create a web page that scrapes/shows the timestamps on files/urls. allow users to add/remove items on this list (self-customized per user)

    focus employees to avoid "CC to all" mentality unless collaborative work is actually going on. "FYI" emails are best put on a bulletin board or bb-page

    break employees into stronger focus groups that work within themselves and deliver results on a set schedule (1x a week, month, etc)

    tighten the spam filters

    update everyone's email address names and have them send out a notice to crucial clients

    employ a local web-based email system, save your network's bandwidth for when people really download the attachments

    encourage more IM-based conversations (more immediate, more collaborative) over email

    • Some more ideas...

      a document management system, such as those by Hummingbird [hummingbird.com]

      a portal, such as Sharepoint [microsoft.com]

      We use both of these. Sharepoint (yeah, it's Microsoft -- deal with it) is great; it'll allow a lot of customization, looks snazzy, etc., etc. Hummingbird's products -- I hesitate to bring them up, because they're so problematic (and their technical support is atrocious), but when they work, they're rather fabulous. They also have a KM product which can crawl the DM (document management) repositor

  • NNTP. Old fashioned newsgroups. How many companies resort to long meetings, or wide distribution of voice mails, or e-mails cc'd to everyone under the sun? These are silly abuses of technology, and they don't make sense.

    NNTP is what you need for distribution of information. You can set up newsgroups for every possible special interest in your company.
    • Well said, and for quick answer/response stuff, have an IRC channel too. Where I last worked lots was done on NNTP, but the quickest way to get in contact with a sysadmin (e.g. "why can I no longer ping the test lab from my desk?") was to hop off onto IRC.

      YAW.
  • You really haven't provided enough information for anyone to thoughtfully respond to your question. There are thousands of ways one might notify people of changes. Before offering suggestions, one would need to know what information is changing, how important it is for your users to know of these changes, frequency of the changes, technologies that dominate your work culture, etc.

    Example: You user base might be interested in real time stock ticker feeds and news about their company. Real time stock feeds

  • by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @08:23PM (#7402376)
    For all purposes an IM system is an email system which has its user interface focused on users rather than on the messages themselves. Any abuse that email systems recieve, so shall IM systems.

    That said, common email systems could use some improvement, just don't expect human nature to change simply because the app [sort of] did.
  • by itwerx ( 165526 )
    Mod me Flamebait (or Funny) as you wish but here's my take on the situation:

    Problem:
    "...email delivery times are now apparently exceeding the times that our user base deems acceptable..."

    Solution:
    Get rid of MS-Exchange! :)
    • by TBone ( 5692 )
      Actually, as bloated as Exchange is, it actually does this "right" now. If I attach a 1 meg attachment to an email to 10 people on my server, rather than saving 10 copies of that attachment in 10 different mailboxes, the server strips taht attachment out, and replaces it with an object reference (which is a few bytes, not a meg). It then replaces the attachment with that reference, and delivers the email. Every person who opens the doc gets the exact same object everyone else gets, which isn't a problem
  • Hotline (Score:3, Informative)

    by johnos ( 109351 ) on Wednesday November 05, 2003 @09:01PM (#7402691)
    I'd suggest Hotline/Openline (shameless plug).

    You can get the compiled binaries of the open source non-banner clients at the following URLs: PC Client [hldownload.com], Mac Client [hldownload.com]

    And the servers here: PC Server [hldownload.com], Mac Server [hldownload.com]

    Info for the app is here:
    Hotsprings [hotspringsinc.com]
    Info on the open source projects here:
    Opensprings [opensprings.org]
  • Jabber is an open source IM and great for company use. You run the server internally so you don't have to worry about company secrets being sent via an untrusted third party potentially in the clear.

    It provides "Presence" so you can see who is Online/Away/Busy/etc, which can be great when you want to ask someone a quick question. Being an IM, messages are sent promptly. I've never seen anyone spam the jabber network, and there are checks in place to try and prevent it ever happening, but even if spammer
  • ..proprietary messaging framework that (among other things) can be used to synchronize file folders across the Internet. It is XML based, have free (with source) clients for Java or .NET, supports offline clients and works both ways thru the firewalls.
  • ...Why not speed up email delivery times?

    Seriously

    I get the impression you're talking about intra company traffic, so you can do this.

    1) Get all you servers to give priority to the sort of messages you're talking about.

    2) Set up an extra mail system which ONLY handles the sort of mail you're talking about and have all the clients check it.

    The details of this would depend on your network arch etc but its hardly going to break the bank. Also it would be up and running in days not months.

    Just a though
  • IM is great for a quick note that does not need archived info, like "hey, ready for lunch?", etc.

    News has many features ideal for business, and better than IRC due to the ease of following a conversation after-the-fact.

    With email, if you have a group of people discussing a topic, every single person gets a copy, and someone joining in later will have no way of knowing the previous conversation.

    With news, all the data is stored centrally and only looked at by people who want to look at it (ie: not pushed
  • It's not entirely clear what communication problem you're trying to solve, other than "our mail server is overloaded, we're looking for a (likely alternative) solution".

    At my last company, one group had set up a Jabber server, although very few folks in my business unit were using it (in favour of AIM). However, our group ran into an e-mail problem and Jabber just happened to be part of the solution.

    The problem: Code builds were happening on one server (which I owned from a sysadmin POV), but the e-ma

  • Barring performance problems like you're having, email is the best tool for this job. It's easy, everyone has the tools to send and receive already and it's easy to keep as documentation for reference.

    I'd focuss on making things work while minimizing the change to user habits, since users don't like to learn new ways of doing things (as a general rule).

    Obviously, if you had the budget you could throw more hardware and bandwidth at the problem and everything would be fine. Since you're asking I'm assumin
  • Get xythos [xythos.com] or webdav [webdav.org].
    WebDAV integrated with LDAP solved the file attachment problem for us.
    xythos is a commercial implementation of WebDAV.
  • You should perhaps try to use a knowledge management
    system like Opentext's [opentext.com] Livelink.

    We are using it at our office and it works great. It allows sharing files, message boards, project management all from a web interface.

    We now don't use email internally any more.
  • Have a look at elvin [dstc.edu.au] for example. You run a publish server, the things you mentioned are instrumented (also apps like CVS [dstc.edu.au]) to publish events, users subscribe to only those events they're interested in and are then notified when these happen. One notification mechanism is tickertape [dstc.edu.au], but there are others of course.

    Ralf

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