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Ask Slashdot: Knowledge Management Systems? 134

Tom writes: Is there an enterprise level equivalent of Semantic MediaWiki, a Knowledge Management System that can store meaningful facts and allows queries on it? I'm involved in a pretty large IT project and would like to have the documentation in something better than Word. I'd like it to be in a structured format that can be queried, without knowing all the questions that will be asked in the future. I looked extensively, and while there are some graphing or network layout tools that understand predicates, they don't come with a query language. SMW has both semantic links and queries, but as a wiki is very free-form and it's not exactly an Enterprise product (I don't see many chances to convince a government to use it). Is there such a thing?
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Ask Slashdot: Knowledge Management Systems?

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  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @01:52PM (#50699683) Homepage
    Kinda offtopic, but bear with me. Enterprise grade is what closed source rolled out once they started losing sales to well maintained and stable open source projects. it comes with support contracts and licenses, but not much else. Just as many closed vendors will disappoint you with their support as open source. You could argue wikimedia is enterprise grade, because it supports 1.21 million accounts. but unless and until the business is committed to defining exactly what they mean by "enterprise grade" you have nothing to go on other than "software that requires a purchase order and recurring license"

    that having been said, check out foswiki. [] search and control are all pretty good.
    • by Tom ( 822 )

      I'm a big fan of Free Software, don't get me wrong.

      But in certain environments, the effort it takes to get something into the project is much, much less if it comes from HP or SAP or Microsoft, or even from RedHat or, you know, some other company instead of github. It might be bullshit, but it's a corporate reality, like it or not.

      foswiki seems to be just a regular wiki. For that the company would go with Confluence, I'm sure. I'm looking for something more than a wiki. Something that understands meanings a

      • Semantic-based systems require EVERYONE who enters information to PROPERLY tag it with ALL the CORRECT metadata. Having supported real-world (AKA stupid, lazy) users for almost 15 years, I can tell you that ain't gonna happen. No matter what the users or management claim at the outset. You will be stuck, furiously applying tags well into the wee hours to "fix" the system "you said would work."

        This is a losing game. Avoid playing at all.

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          That is why I'm looking for a system that understands these problems exist and helps solving them, e.g. by formalizing data input.

          That is why I think something like SMW won't cut it, because the system needs structure enforced instead of relying on users always doing the right thing all the time.

          It's probably possible to hack something together with SMW and Semantic Forms and some other extensions, I just really wonder if I'm the first person ever who wants structured, query-able documentation?

          • Well, I had written out an incredibly long response, on my phone, and then lost it when I went to look something up. You are lucky I actually care about this topic a lot or I would have just blown the whole thing off...


            First, a clarification question: Will your users actually be submitting whole documents (whether in the form of a wiki page, html content, a .PDF file, or a word processing document) and THEN supposedly selecting multiple snippets of that document and adding metadata about those snip

            • by Tom ( 822 )

              There is existing documentation emerging from the project phase that is largely written in Word and is planned to be added to a wiki or something similar, where it can be better maintained and updated. So every piece of documentation will be touched anyway.

              The metadata I am looking for is not about whole documents. I don't give a rats ass about that, if I am looking for the document about encryption protocols, I already know where to find it. I want factlets. From a security perspective, when a network is c

              • OK, next question:
                Is it absolutely required that the data be embedded in, and tagged within, your documents which are stored in the wiki?

                RDFa is RDF in attributes. It is a standard for embedding tags within html documents to indicate RDF triples. It is assumed that the snippet in the document is the subject. That is wrapped in an html tag. Then attributes in that html tag are used to indicate the predicate and object via IRIs. I actually worked with the REFa working group for a short while. My problem with

                • by Tom ( 822 )

                  Firstly, thanks a lot for your time. This is exactly the kind of exchange I was hoping for (well, that and a small hope someone would post "sure, look here at http://semantic-documentation-... []").

                  Is it absolutely required that the data be embedded in, and tagged within, your documents which are stored in the wiki?

                  Not absolutely, but I am afraid that if prose and metadata are seperate, they will go out of sync. One thing I like about SMW, for example, is how easy it is to update both at the same time, it comes so naturally that you don't even realise it.

                  RDFa is RDF in attributes.

                  Yes, if there were an editor (you already point out there isn't, damn) th

    • by azav ( 469988 )

      "is weasel"??

      What does that mean? That's pretty crappy English. I've got no idea what you're trying to say. Is weasel-y? Is some type of mammal? Nothing "is weasel" except another weasel.

    • by Gob Gob ( 306857 )

      Yeah I had an account that I wanted to win so I did a find and replace for "SaaS Solution" with "Enterprise Grade Cloud Technology" on the {successful} proposal.

      Truth be told its still an ancient and buggy PHP app.

  • Documents and search (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @01:53PM (#50699689)

    Just store a bunch of documents somewhere with a search feature that does full text indexing. Or use a simple Wiki system.

    Anything more complicated than that and you'll be the only one using it. Other people won't care enough to spend their time entering data into specific fields and learning a query system.

    • Yes, a wiki combined with something like Google site search makes the information maintainable, and accommodates unanticipated queries very well.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        wiki /wi' ki:/, n.: place where knowledge goes to die.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      Anything more complicated than that and you'll be the only one using it. Other people won't care enough to spend their time entering data into specific fields and learning a query system.

      These are high-class professionals. If the solution is better than what we have now, it will have support.

      And no, documents or a wiki won't cut it. I need to store and extract meaningful relational information.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Really? You've surveyed them, asking whether they'd be willing to spend the extra time and effort structuring the information and learning the query system?

        Most people won't. If your group will, then they must

        A. have a difficult problem that's already using up their time, that the Knowledge Management System solves. Since you don't have a system picked out, it's unlikely this is currently true. Maybe someday though.
        B. Already use similar procedures for their jobs. Someone who fills out forms all day ma

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          Due to NDAs I can't speak about details, but both B and to some extent A are true, together with one other factor that gives us a window to introduce a new system.

          Anyway, I didn't come here to discuss the pros and cons of the management side, I'm trying to figure out if there are better options than Confluence or Word.

      • by aix tom ( 902140 )

        I have had good experiences with Semantic Mediawiki in two settings:

        A) My workplace, where developers and admins manage the data.
        B) My RPG group, where role players manage the data.

        It *totally tanked* in two settings where people saw our developer/admin wiki and "wanted something similar set up" for them to use:

        C) in my workplace for the marketing people.
        D) in my workplace for the procurement people.

        The that A) and B) had in common, they *knew beforehand* what data they wanted to store for a server, an appl

    • Free text search is great if everyone can spell. Good luck finding a bug about "leep years".

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      Just store a bunch of documents somewhere with a search feature that does full text indexing. Or use a simple Wiki system.

      Anything more complicated than that and you'll be the only one using it. Other people won't care enough to spend their time entering data into specific fields and learning a query system.

      Don't be too sure that using a simple tool will be enough to get people to care enough to spend their time entering data, or learning to query the system.

      Simplicity of the tool is NOT the problem. There are very very few people who want to document, and even fewer who can do it well.

      In general, people are too lazy to even use Google to solve simple problems that actually help them in their daily lives. They won't use whatever the submitter creates either. Oh, they will when the boss tells them too, for

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Atlassian Confluence may be the thing you're looking for.

    • I've seen the confluence wiki product used in very large corporates, it tracks changes, links in with your corporate sign on data and seems to be pretty robust. We were using the GUI prototyping plugin a lot as well

  • Nope (Score:5, Funny)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @02:01PM (#50699711) Homepage

    Is there an enterprise level equivalent of Semantic MediaWiki, a Knowledge Management System that can store meaningful facts and allows queries on it?

    I asked my Knowledge Management System and it said that no, no there isn't.

  • SharePoint can do anything, and anything it can't do, just slap in a bit of jquery.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      Can you point me to more detailed instructions than "it can do anything"?

      The idea of extending SharePoint is good. I found http://www.semantic-sharepoint... [] with a quick Google. Is that what you mean or something else?

      • I believe your parent was joking.
        Sharepoint is a glorified versioning system, mounted into the windows file system and somehow integrated into the office suit of Microsoft.
        It has no query language, nor does the versioning/office integration work reliable.
        However it produced a lot of jobs for mediocre programmers who now tweak and configer it with VisualBasic .Net ....
        Obviously the whole thing relies heavily on tools from microsoft, like IIS, databases and backup solutions etc.

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          However it produced a lot of jobs for mediocre programmers who now tweak and configer it with VisualBasic .Net ....

          I already want to puke.

          I've been using Sharepoint a fair bit, but I can't say I've grown to like it, or developed an interest about it.

      • I was part joking.

        The part bit was because I've used Sharepoint in a KMS before. But it paled in comparison to the system it replaced. None the less IT and the CTO were on the Sharepoint can do everything bandwagon so they did everything with it. I'm glad I don't work there anymore.

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          I was part joking.

          What a shame. No, actually I'm part happy about that because I'm no big fan of SharePoint, but if there were something built on top of it, that would make the convincing and introducing part easier.

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @02:12PM (#50699759)

    A big issue to be aware of for information management systems is the large training effort to use them and the effort to move your documentation into them. We have had problems that a new system is brought in. It takes literally a few years for employees to get their work in the new system and get comfortable with it - then a newer latest and greatest system comes out. We now have 20 years of documentation in half a dozen different places - each of those places originally declared as our "permanent solution".

    You need to budget a lot of training and content transfer time. If you just hope it happens naturally, you will be very disappointed.

    If you don't want to spend time and $ on training and moving documents, your best bet IS just files in a directory tree with a normal OS provided content search. If people use keywords in documents, that is good enough for 95% of all documentation uses, and its free.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      your best bet IS just files in a directory tree with a normal OS provided content search

      Not useful for my case. I know that I will need to query the system in more complicated ways than keyword searches allow. I need to know how data flows and how systems are connected. I want to store relations as well as information, that's why I thought about SMW, except that it's too much of tinkering. I've been in this area for a while, I have a fairly good understand of what is possible how. If someone took SMW and turned it into a solid product with Enterprise support, I would propose it immediately. I

      • JetBrains, the company behind the Java IDE also offers a combined Issue-Tracker / Wiki called YouTrack.
        That is primarily an issue tracker. However it has an excellent custom querry language. Ofc you can define your own issue type, 'knowledge' whith a simple lifecycle: posted, accepted.
        From the UI it might look to much like an typical issue tracker, but with the options to attach files, tag your 'issues' group them into projects and stories and the extended query language and various views, the options to wr

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          How would I store that this application is stored on that server located on these networks, exchanging these types of data with this and this other systems?

          • Never dug into it. I only proposed it because of its query language and its "wiki like" UI ... if you understand the gap between a wiki and a ticket system/issue tracker.

            As it stores everything in an ordinary database, and the tool itself is extendable via plug ins, I would focus on figuring if the "UI part" makes any sense and tackle the data sharing/integration afterwards.

    • large training effort to use them and the effort to move your documentation into them

      There was a discussion on Slashdot a couple of months about a more sophisticated file system.

      In my opinion we should extend file systems instead of replace them because users and support staff are used to them and their stuff is already there.

      If file systems easily allowed meta data to be attached to files and folders, then semi-structured queries etc. could be done on them. "Views" could be made of combinations of folder t

    • I've never seen a solution be replaced due to features or for fun. They typically get replaced due to obsolescence, defunct vendor and lack of support, or because the vendor is trying to fleece the client with an insanely expensive support contract once their solution is in place.

      Sticking with one solution is not as easy as you think.

  • The number one problem is at the input interface: People will only use it if it's useful or there is someone standing over them with a cosh. So how do you do that? By finding applications they find useful for their knowledge or sharing knowledge. Progress report, interface specs, requests for changes or whatever the knowledge generators want. So it's a management problem.

    Say to management, "I have this as a solution, I think it's the most flexible, can we give it a try? Look! I've piloted it on my

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      and novelists trying to keep track of places, people, timelines, todos, feedback etc

      That was actually more helpful than you might think, because I'm a roleplayer and GM a lot and I know this problem very good. It's an interesting way to look at it and yes, it is very similar.

      keep coming back to a book of notes or a master notes document.)

      The problem is that the complexity of the system is too large for notes.

  • (I don't see many chances to convince a government to use it)

    The government uses a tremendous amount of open source software, I don't see any reason they wouldn't consider mediawiki? Plus, everyone's heard of wikipedia,it's a pretty easy sell: "You've used wikipedia right? We're going to use the same exact software that runs wikipedia - and it's free!"

  • I developed a large information based system recently and we used Drupal 7 and a plugin to push the content to OpenCalais which then tagged the content with the semantic info back into the drupal system. You can then use a faceted search which will allow you to drill down to your data.
  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @03:15PM (#50700019) Homepage Journal

    Seeing as I've seen Tom reject every single suggestion anyone has had, I guess the answer to his question is "No."

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      I may not have been precise enough in describing what I'm looking for. Or I set people off in the wrong direction by using SMW as an example, because it's the closest I know to what I want. Or maybe it really doesn't exist.

      • You really should check out Oracle Knowledge.

        • by Tom ( 822 )

          That would fly, but from the little information I could gain it's basically a CMS with good search capabilities. Does it have any kind of structured data, ontology, etc?

  • ... Howtos + 5-minute Screencasts are what you're looking for.

    Most KMSes/DMSes are crap - wether FOSS or not. Don't burden yourself with an extra system that is more trouble than use. Verbose opening comments of classes, API docs with examples, documented Usecases, double-checked by the users, Howtos and Screencasts are what you're need and want.

    Once you've generated the final docs, give them a nice design, some search-thingy with elasticsearch or something and put the Howtos andd Screencasts Front and center along with some Intros for n00b users.

    All that is done best with textfiles and API doctools + proper versioning. Perhaps some diagrams of archticture, setup and Main Usecases nicht help.

    KMSes are the Fallout of 2000s mid-execs bullshit-bingo sessions and IMHO hardly ever worth the hassle.

    My 2 cents.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      This doesn't work and everyone knows it. Yes, if you have a few people on staff for the documentation, you will end up with a nicely designed, professionally looking piece of documentation. That may or may not have a relation to what is actually implemented. The more time passes, the more it will move towards "may not".

      That is because in real life scenarios, knowledge in the head of people working the system every day trumps knowledge stored in Word files. Because they are too clumsy and reading them is too

      • by giuntag ( 833437 )
        Disclaimer: I've been working in the CMS area for the last 8 years, not KMS, but here you go:
        • what you are looking for is a project, not a product
        • defining taxonomies, tagging content, making people follow agreed-upon workflows, naming conventions, 'this goes there' conventions takes a lot of time and effort
        • the best "tool" you can buy is a dedicated knowledge management official (the 'webmaster' of lore ;-)
        • 2nd best tool is buy-in from all parties. KMO can train them, provide them with self-learning material
        • by Tom ( 822 )

          You are probably right that a knowledge manager would be useful at this stage. And yes, I understand I won't be able to buy a product and press a button and everything is good. But I need to start somewhere, and the right technology choice is usually a good starting point.

          Just that I would like to put the metadata into the documentation while it is being written, instead of using some kind of search or analysis in an attempt to extract it later on. It seems stupid to me to not do it right the first time.

  • In the title. Thank you and have a great day.
  • Even a basic wiki or any kind of system (let's say internal IM or some stuff to schedule when the meeting room gets used) may get approved, set up and then virtually unused. Or in stronger terms it will be unused.

    e.g. the tags attached to slashdot stories. At least I've noticed that today clicking on them brings a list of stories (it used to not work I think). But it is likely that 80% of stories (or a lot more) that would warrant relating to a given tag are missing, and many tags were one-time snarky remar

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      Thus you may want to define some areas of knowledge where the semantical features will really be used more than in others, and somehow get it enforced through policy?

      That is the plan. Ideally, however, the two (strict areas and less strict ones) are in the same system so the documentation is easy to improve whenever someone feels the need.

  • Looking at [] there are a few examples that can definitely be considered enterprise users, including some high-risk government users (NASA uses it to plan EVAs for the ISS for example).

    The "enterprise mentality" makes most of the alternatives too cumbersome to actually be effectively used - ultimately you have to have buy-in from you users, or what management wants is not going to matter - if it's not pleasant to use you'll be back to emailing 70 different versions of the same different Word document around in a few months time with file renames as your only version control (if you are that lucky).

  • Some tools (Score:4, Informative)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Saturday October 10, 2015 @04:40PM (#50700293) Journal [] Java Desktop Application.,Used to define/manage ontologies. Not sure if they have a web version meanwhile and if comes close to what you need. However it supports plugins, perhaps the frontend can be adapted to access a centralized DB. Oh, found it: []égé.html

    This is a info page with an overview about various tools: []

    Did you stumble over this: []? Dozens of various tools mentioned.

    Another tool, I stumbled iver, but did not use it yet: []

    And then there is []
    But that is more a programming API to dynamically create classes to store/manage data in an ontology described database. (Did not use it yet, but looks promizing)

    And then we have this: []

    BTW, I can offer remote programming/assistance in such tools.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      These are really good resources, thanks a lot.

      If we go this direction, I have your e-mail.

  • you might want a tool storing claims in the form of RDF triples; these can be used as the basis for deductive reasoning. one standard in this area is the Web Ontology Language. several software reasoners are named in the wikipedia article. also, for existing knowledge bases, see:

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      I looked into RDF and OWL a few years back. OWL is more powerfully expressive, which is not always a good thing.

      RDF more closely matches the way relational databases work; in many ways SPARQL is like SQL without the relational model baggage (or the awesome query optimizers that come with that). OWL on the other hand understands a much more powerful subset of first order logic, including generalizations such as such and so cannot be true for any object of a certain type. On the surface this seems like it

      • by Tom ( 822 )

        Yes, the more I read about the subject, the more I tend towards simply using RDF to model the knowledge data, mixed with some kind of wiki or reader to contain the prose parts.

        I still think mixing them is more natural to people who write the documentation, and that's what I like SMW for, because you can simply write things like "Server A is on vlan [network:123]" and both human and machine can understand the meaning of that.

        But I can't believe a hack to MediaWiki is the best that's available.

  • Surely you just say something like... Look the cost is in the staff who you already have, it's Open Source and sits on top of an Open Source application, it's free, the platform to host it is either free or low cost commodity, plenty of people use it already (proven technology), it'll look good that the government is investing time not necessarily money from tax payers and it's using Open Source and Open Standards, so you're not tied into some niche technology only supported by a select few large corporati
  • As for query "all the cities with more than a million people, in frenchspeaking countries" - we are not there yet. But could it be submitted as ="French" city.population >= 1M - if yes, and you are fine with the fact that numerical values will only be from some "fact box" - then it could be done, I think even sort of auto-complete for users wouldn't be too hard to implement.
  • Oracle has a Semantic layer over their RDBMS that comes with their Spatial package. My only knowledge of it comes from talking to a product manager about it a long time ago. My son works in a shop which uses SMW for their LIMS. I'd say that it's an enterprise application with him as the main developer and a few other non-IT/CS/EE folks writing queries against it. He's like a developer + DBA and everything goes through him and he writes almost all of the forms and reports from requests by his department. I'
  • From:

    "Instead of de-normalizing for performance, you would normalize interesting attributes into their own nodes, making it much easier to move, filter and aggregate along these lines. Content and asset management, job-finding, recommendations based on weighted relationships to relevant attribute-nodes are some use cases that fit this model very well."

    An example of this is/was FreeBase:
    (Look at the query examples.)

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner