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Document Management Systems (DMS) and Knowledge Management

Submitted by on March 3, 2008 – 9:41 pm 4,362 views 9 Comments

When I first started using knowledge management applications (mainly traditional outliners), I had hoped that I could find the “One True Application” or OTA. The OTA is the single killer-app that contains all the features I could ever hope for, solves all of my problems, and automagically helps organize all my information. Well folks, I’ve learned that the OTA doesn’t yet exist. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to find a suite of the best open source applications to handle their areas of expertise (content managment, document management, search, semantic query, information discovery, and visualization). My focus for the past few days has been on Document Managements Systems (DMS).

I decided to switch gears and research DMS solutions for a few reasons. Here’s the background: I’m now a couple weeks into my hunt for the perfect Wiki for Personal Knowledge Management. I hinted early on that I favored MediaWiki, and that certainly has held true. It required a little bit of tinkering around, and getting in the guts of PHP now and then, but I feel that I have a pretty sophisticated setup so far. I have a number of extensions enabled that enhance the wiki (the best of which is Semantic MediaWiki… more on that later).

I’ve managed to import some of my older personal journals, travel logs, and have an intriguing setup for my dream journal using Semantic MediaWiki (SMW), Semantic Calendar, and Simile Timeline. At this point, the wiki not only has my old journals, but a place to store my current projects and philosophy research.

Everything seems happy in Wiki-land, and I’m on the road to a great setup for a Personal Knowledge Manager. However, one major area that’s lacking in MediaWiki (or most wiki’s in general) is document management. I have a huge amount of PDFs, Word docs, and Mind Maps that I need to categorize and have ready access to. But, I’ve found that MediaWiki is very lacking in how it handles Attachments. By default, attachments are only expected to be images. You can lift the image-only restriction and add additional file types like .doc and .pdf, however this will only get you so much mileage. Here are the major limitations I’ve found:

  1. Inability to natively search attachments (default search is only for wiki content)
  2. Lack of support to add MetaData about documents(author, keywords/tags, dates, etc). You could use Semantic Forms to help out with this task, but why reinvent the wheel?
  3. Organization of documents (taxonomy). You could attempt to fit the attachments in with the existing wiki categories, however the document hierarchy can end up being a bit different than your wiki content, and it’s probably better suited to growing organically (by itself).

With these limitations in mind, I started researching some of the more popular open source Document Management Systems. Ideally, whatever product I choose should have some degree of integration with the wiki, and I’d like it to be web-based. Although the “One True Application” is a mythical beast, it’s still a nice goal to deal with a single interface where possible.

I currently have my top 3 applications:

I’ve been toying with SCAN since yesterday and have to say that I’m super impressed! Although the interface isn’t web-based, it has a minimalist and intuitive (yet powerful) look n’ feel. The Tag Clustering plugin is killer, and the ability to import and search against my del.icio.us account is wonderful. If SCAN had a web-interface or remote service layer I’d be sold in a heart beat (who knows, I might end up making one).

I also have had a little experience with Alfresco. I evaluated this a little over a year ago, and had a temporary setup where I shared some docs with friends. I have no prior experience with Knowledge Tree, but it looks interesting.

I’ll definitely share my findings as I dig in deeper.

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