A tool for smart sharing

GCN Lab review: TeamPage helps you manage and make good use of wikis and blogs


IT SEEMS EVERY organization wants to use blogs and wikis to help share, disseminate and even control information. But doing so efficiently is kind of like catching a train in rural India ' everyone is getting on board, but nobody knows for sure where it is going.

A poorly deployed blog or wiki can do your organization a lot more harm than good. Even at open federal agencies, releasing information willy-nilly is a recipe for disaster. But with careful planning and deployment, even the most secretive agencies can benefit from this relatively new technology.

TeamPage 4.0 is the latest release of Traction Software's core product, and it adds major improvements to the back end, where most of the work takes place. It's difficult to pigeonhole this software into a particular category. It can drive a blog or wiki, or it can be used as a content tool to update a Web site. The program's greatest strength is its ability to stretch to perform almost any content management task. A set of inherent rules and data associations that allow customization makes that possible. Traction Software can help set up the application for your agency, but the entire software development kit is open to customers, so if you have skilled programmers, almost anything goes.

The most basic level in our tests had TeamPage driving a public Web site. The software let administrators dynamically update the site live in the background while keeping those updates hidden from the public until they were fully ready.

When an article is added to a Web site backed by TeamPage, it is automatically posted. However, the permission settings can prevent a standard visitor from seeing it. When editors, or administrators, with the proper permissions log on to the system, they will see the article and can edit or change it. This draft editing mode is unique because it lets editors see how the article will look on the page ' it really is on the page, just invisible to most people. When approved, the article can automatically be made live or set to go live at a specific date and time.

A tightly defined set of permissions makes this possible. Because you can do almost anything with it, TeamPage 4.0 is a great tool even though agencies must customize it. You can allow or deny users the ability to post, read, publish or lock articles, and you can further define these permissions by groups.

Users in a group called, for example, Budget- Workforce might have permission to do just about anything within the confines of that group. However, they might be able to only read articles posted by members of a group called AdminPolicy and denied even knowing when a new article is available in SecretPrograms ' they might not even know that such a group exists. In a secret agency, you could set up TeamPage so that users only see articles that they have been personally posted. It would look like an empty system to them, although someone at the top could see everything and move certain information into a more public area. Even then, a poster's identity could automatically be kept hidden.

You can set up those permissions using a fairly uncomplicated series of check boxes. However, sometimes permission rules can supersede one another. At the bottom of the permissions menu is a box called Effective Permissions, which lets you see if the program is applying the permission levels in the way you intended.

If you think about how wikis and blogs work, they are essentially the same thing, though with different permission levels. That is how TeamPage can become all things to all people, even a content management tool used as Web server.

Beyond the important matter of permissions, TeamPage's ability to handle data is impressive. If more wikis were designed this way, they probably would be more widely used in government, either as internal tools or for public comment.

Making a basic entry takes a single click. At that point, whatever structure you have in place for a post is created. This is fairly standard wiki editing. However, once your post is made, there are a lot of features to bring it into part of the wiki space so it is not just a standalone article.

To hook an article into your agency's system, the first thing you will see are several grayed-out links, assuming you are in admin mode and have permission.

These are the standard links that are set up to work with your system. Say your system always puts entries in French and English as a matter of policy.

When making an English post, you will be shown that no French translation exists because the standard link will be grayed out. You can then create the French language post or leave it for someone else to do.

The best thing about this is that it will track all the links and potential links within the system.

So, for example, if you are the French editor, you might see that there is a link to the French version of an article on the FAMAS G2 Assault Rifle set up automatically from an English post even though the French article has not yet been created. Looking at this interface, you might find multiple links to articles that do not yet exist or, even worse, an uncreated article with many links going to it. Hopefully this won't happen often if people are monitoring the system, though it can and does happen in standard wikis all the time.

Pricing for TeamPage varies. On the low end, with only a few users, you can get the program for $15,000 with annual updates of $7,500. This is a little expensive if you have only 25 users. There are less efficient but far cheaper ways to manage your wikis and blogs ' even some freeware programs.

However, having a large number of users involved in wikis and blogs increases the complexity and the potential for disaster ' both technically and by giving out the wrong information to the wrong people. If you have more than 200 users, you can purchase the unlimited license for $60,000 with annual updates of $30,000. This is isn't cheap, but there is no better way to manage wikis and blogs supporting multiple projects from one program.

We also tested a supplement called the FAST Module that can be added to TeamPage. It costs an extra $15,000, but it adds the FAST Enterprise Search Engine from Fast Search and Transfer.

The default search engine for TeamPage does a good job of finding, say, a person's name. But with the FAST Module, it will also find context associated with the search ' which might be what you are looking for ' even if you don't know this going into the search.

Say you search for a person, and there is a blog entry about that person with several comments about their job or program. With FAST, those entries would appear in your search results along with information linked from those entries, including terms that might be linked from them. In this way, your blog or wiki system gets more powerful and likely more accurate as it grows instead of the other way around, which is the normal path for systems such as this that can easily become overloaded with information.

You also get 5G of space for index words with the FAST Module, which makes searches faster. Like the TeamPage software, the FAST Module is way too expensive if you only have a few users, unless they are incredibly prolific writers, but it's a valuable tool for management of an enterprise system.

Traction Software, (401) 528-1145, www.tractionsoftware.com

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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