Soledad Alvarado Ganshorn recently posted a question in the Docupedia area of Collaboration Workspace asking “What are the key topics you would like to see featured in docupedia”. Rather than outlining specific topics that I’d like to see featured, I’d like to go through some improved functionality I’d like SAP to use when presenting documents within SDN and its various other document stores. This functionality could be used to enhance the presentation of Tech-ed presentations, How to guides, White papers etc.
The display of PDF, Powerpoint and other kinds of document files within SDN is fairly primitive. For example, the recent Building a Composite Business Process from Scratch with SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management on Business Process Management provides three links to useful tutorials on this subject. However, the links are to PDF documents which must be downloaded in order to view their contents. While it is possible to view these in HTML though an SDN search the resulting output does not render well. Also, there is no real possibility to bookmark these files with a permanent URL.
A much more desirable feature would be the posssibility to view documents within the browser, using a preview feature. Sites such as Slideshare, Scribd and edocr use Flash technology to preview documents though an elegant display interface. It is important for users that documents are easily accessible and can be viewed within the web browser. Gmail and Google Docs recently implemented functionality to allow PDF files to be read without having to download the document and open with Adobe reader or Foxit. This technology has a number of benefits – over downloading documents – including:
* Eliminating the need to download large documents in order to read one paragraph
* Allowing documents to be embedded into blogs, wikis, intranets
* Enabling documents to be viewed using mobile devices e.g. iPhone
* Providing documents with a permanent URL, that can be tagged and easily shared
Web 2.0 features
While the platform (Jive Software’s Clearspace) used on Collaboration Workspace allows the possibility for users to comment,tag and rate documents, it still does not offer some of the interesting web 2.0 features seen on other sites. For example, on Slideshare / Scribd there are a number of interesting features allowing more interaction with documents. These include being able to:
* share documents though email or social sites such as twitter, delicious, digg etc
* add documents to your account by making them favourites
* downloading documents in PDF/Plain text if required
* find related documents, or other documents from the same publisher or in a similar group
These features all provide for others to participate and interact with documents, thus providing extra value over and above the content of the document itself. By letting users comment, bookmark and embed documents it adds value and context to the content.
Linking for context
In my view one of the most powerful features is actually the view count and linking abilities. On Scribd – and other sites such as Youtube – there is the ability to see all the sites that link to a document, including the visits from those sites. It would be interesting to see what discussion forums/blogs/OSS notes etc. link to a particular SAP presentation or white paper. This can help to contextualize the information and link it to a subject matter expert. Also, the number and frequency of visits could help determine the popularity of a document and whether others consider it still useful or valid. While it’s easy to find documents on SDN it’s often difficult to understand whether they are the latest version, or whether the functionality they discuss is implemented widely or considered useful. The forums/blogs may contain this information, but the cross referencing is opaque and requires another search.
It would be interesting to see SAP develop a channel on Scribd/Slideshare and upload their documents there. There are various different channels on Scribd from Barack Obama, Ford Motor Company and Nasa sharing various documents in an easy and accessible format. Also, the API can be used to implement this preview functionality on other sites.
Web 2.0 allows us to see the potential to increase the value of documents by making them easily accessible and interactive. Fully exploiting these freatures will allow for the SDN/SAP documentation experience to be more collaborative and user friendly.