Knowledge Hub User Consultation: the importance of UI and UX

It’s not about what the technology can do; it’s how you use it. The importance of focusing on the user experience (UX) rather than how many features you can add.

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sad-happy-UXLong time readers of this blog will know that I was intimately involved as lead consultant for the local government Knowledge Hub collaborative platform, and have written much about the concepts and ideas that went into its early development. Some of which are noted here:

This is my response, to the latest Knowledge Hub consultation exercise following the recent announcement about CapacityGRID (a subsidiary of Liberata) taking control of the future development and strategy for KHub. This is posted here as an open letter, but has also been submitted to the KHub forum discussion.

It’s laudable that you are consulting with your users to identify improvements to KHub, but I wonder if this is the best way of shaping and prioritising future developments. The fundamental problem, I believe, is the inherent complexities of the user interface (UI), which creates a less than optimum user experience (UX). Building additional features and functionality on top of these shaky foundations is only going to add to the problems many users experience in finding the information they want or knowing how to engage and contribute.

Taking on board all of these new ideas and suggestions for features and enhancements from what will inevitably be a vocal minority may give you a skewed perspective on what is really important, and future problems in managing expectations where some suggestions are given lower priorities. If you get – say – 50 responses, this represents just 0.0003% of your touted user base of 160,000. Hardly a representative sample.

An alternative would be to use the system statistics to develop a histogram showing the most used features and most popular pages and then set about simplifying access and improving performance for these features and pages. This will more likely uncover the underlying problems that ALL users are likely experiencing, it overcomes the problem with skewed priorities from the more vocal users, and will hopefully address some of the problems with the UI/UX.  If anyone cares to understand a bit more about the importance of UI and UX, and the difference between the two, then read this post that I produced during my time as lead consultant for the KHub, which also contains lots of useful reference links to good UI/UX practice. It’s difficult to relate anything in this post to what was actually delivered – especially the business scenarios.

Key point here is that it’s not about what the technology can do; it’s how you use it.

One last point, as you are probably aware, I collated and curated a fairly substantive response, on behalf of the “Knowledge Hub Advisory Group”, to the original consultation when it was announced that KHub might close down. This group acted as a steering group during the procurement and early development stages of KHub, but was disbanded by the new project team shortly after I left the project. I managed to get many of the original members together for the purpose of the consultation exercise, and have yet to see any response or even acknowledgement to this input – formal or informal.

I’ve pulled out two of the many recommendations from this group, which I think are still relevant to this latest consultation, and once again relate to UI and UX, as follows:

1. There is significant anecdotal evidence that users find the current system difficult to use and lacking many of the features of the legacy CoP platform (e.g. tools for Facilitators). The user experience is further complicated by the lack of integration with other LGA products and services, such as esd-toolkit and LGInform. Currently, if you use LGInform you sign in via the esd-toolkit, but if you want to collaborate or have discussions about it you have to separately sign-in to Knowledge Hub. This is despite esd-toolkit supporting relevant standards, such as OAuth and OpenID. Users would naturally like to see a far more intuitive and seamless experience between esd-toolkit, LGInform and Knowledge Hub. Porism, esd-toolkit’s technical partners, are willing to commit resources to help achieve this vision.

2. There is a need for closed, secure spaces for sharing some knowledge and data, and there is also a need for the online management of these spaces, as currently provided by the KHub support team. However, the online field is moving incredibly fast, and it may be that we need to put more emphasis on mini-Hubs and connecting different Hubs and networks. It doesn’t make sense to have a local government-only space nationally when locally the reality is lots of different partnerships and networks across sectors, and with citizens, on the lines that Lambeth and others are developing.

I hope this helps inform this latest consultation, and it would be useful (and courteous?) to get some feedback on this occasion.

Steve Dale

(Image source: http://www.creativerealities.com/)

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Knowledge Hub Closure: What have we learnt?

We should think of the LGA announcement of the closing down of the Knowledge Hub as an opportunity rather than a problem. The original concept was for a sustainable, sector driven cultural and technological environment in which collaborative knowledge generation, learning, sharing and problem-solving would be supported with minimal mediation by national bodies. The reality is that it is has become a closed and proprietary LGA network, with very little transparency about strategy and development priorities, and clearly now a growing burden to a cash-strapped organisation.

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There has been quite a buzz of activity on the various blogs, Twitter streams and social networks following the recent press announcement about the pending closure of the LGA’s Knowledge Hub. Here are some of them:

Or just follow the Twitter hashtag #khub

It’s encouraging to see that there is fairly widespread concern about the potential impact of the cessation of this service, albeit with some valid points about how the service could be delivered more simply and cheaply. But more on this in a moment.

As the original design lead for the Knowledge Hub, and the IDeA Communities of Practice platform that preceded it, I might have a lot to say about all of this, and not all of it complimentary to the LGA, given the direction the development took the moment I was out of the door! Suffice to say, it doesn’t exactly meet the original vision, as described in one of my earlier posts: http://steve-dale.net/2009/09/21/knowledge-hub-part-1/

Original Positioning Statement

Knowledge Hub is an innovative new social business platform that will allow councillors, officers, policy makers, experts, regulators and practitioners across the public sector to take greater advantage of new media tools and techniques to support more effective knowledge sharing. It will provide access to new and emerging practice for public service improvement and innovation, and tools for developing and sharing open and linked data applications.

There is no doubt that compromises had to be made as various budget cuts kicked in, but one of the biggest mistakes – I think – was to collapse all design and development decisions into a very small and inward-looking LGA project team, removing the sector-wide governance structures that I had worked so hard to establish. At a stroke, the wider perspective and wise council of The Knowledge Hub Advisory Group was lost, and with it any vision or strategy to deliver a joined-up approach to using open data to derive actionable information and lead to better decision making. Thereafter, opportunities for innovation and knowledge sharing become lost or widely disaggregated across different channels and networks. Hence we’re still left with a separate ESD-Toolkit network, and an LGInform project that continues to plough its own furrow. The original vision was for both of these to be fully integrated into Knowledge Hub and thereby eliminating costs of having separate hosting and support infrastructures, as well as reducing overall complexity for the users.

But the cost of the technology is not the real issue here. Considerable time and effort has been put into the development and growth of the KHub, which is still the UK’s largest public sector membership network. With the private sector now investing heavily in enterprise collaboration and ‘social business’ to encourage innovation and deliver better services, it seems a paradox that a successful and established network operating across local government and the third sector is being closed because the value hasn’t yet been recognised.

When considering “value”, does anyone seriously think that Yahoo! is paying $1.1billion (£723m) for the technology that runs Tumblr? No! They’re paying for the 50million or so users of the network and what this means for advertising revenue. Clearly Knowledge Hub is not there for advertising revenue, but there are two important principles at play here:

  1. Users have an inherent value
  2. Building a network from a standing start is not a viable option – for anyone!

Looking at the announcement from LGA I can’t see any evidence that the value of the network of users has been given any thought at all. And in particular, scant regard for the fairly unique skills and experience of the small band of community managers and facilitators that really understand how to develop and nurture a collaborative community.

So, perhaps we should think of this announcement as an opportunity rather than a problem. The original concept was for a sustainable, sector driven cultural and technological environment in which collaborative knowledge generation, learning, sharing and problem-solving would be supported with minimal mediation by national bodies. The reality is that it is has become a closed and proprietary LGA network, with very little transparency about strategy and development priorities, and clearly now a growing burden to a cash-strapped organisation.

What I think is needed is:

  1. A new owning authority to be established, along the lines of a cooperative or member-owned, not-for-profit organisation. This organisation to take overall responsibility for future strategic development of Knowledge Hub. The Knowledge Hub will thereafter be owned and managed by its members.
  2. A new business model to be established around member/organisation subscription. Membership would guarantee privacy, security, persistent content ownership and no advertising (advertising could be considered as a revenue stream for freemium membership)
  3. Utilising the same technology (the Intelligus platform is capable of delivering everything that was in the original vision and specification), but available in a more open environment that would encourage entrepreneurial development.
  4. A new Knowledge Hub mandate is agreed setting out its purpose in providing a secure and trusted collaborative environment for use by any person or organisation working to improve public services, or delivering community services.
  5. Subject to consultation, members and content to be seamlessly migrated to the new open environment.

I appreciate there are many other factors that also deserve consideration, not least the possible loss of LGA staff that may have been instrumental in supporting the many KHub communities and who possess that unique blend of “community management” skills. I believe this discussion should be more formally part of the LGA consultation rather than speculate as part of this post.

I’m happy to receive views/comments on any of the points raised here.

 

 

 

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Knowledge Hub: A response.

The Knowledge Hub community of practice facilities were meant to be a step on the way, and not an end in itself, which is what I think the Knowledge Hub has become. The unfortunate conjunction of original concepts and vastly cut-down capabilities (per the original specification) has resulted in a just-about-adequate user interface (UI), but a fairly hostile user experience (UX).

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My colleague Dave Briggs has posted an interesting challenge about the Knowledge Hub – the new community platform for local government – questioning whether it is reaching the parts that the legacy platform used to reach and particularly its relative lack of activity and fairly laboured user experience.

I wasn’t too sure whether or not I should contribute to the discussion, given that I probably have more insight on the history of this project than most people, and as the lead consultant and architect for the project over two years until October 2011, I’m party to some information that I can’t (or shouldn’t) make public.

However, in the light of the comments and feedback I’ve seen on Dave’s original post, I feel compelled to correct a few assumptions.

The original thinking and concept for the Knowledge Hub, which I articulated in a Knowledge Management Strategy paper I was commissioned to produce in 2008 for the Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA, now part of the LGA), was to leverage emerging social web technologies to provide better opportunities for collaboration across local government, encourage innovation and break down the silo’d working practices that were becoming prevalent on the legacy CoP platform.

The fundamental design concept was to map every user’s social graph (people and relationships) against their interest graph (the topics and themes they followed, e.g. housing, environment, planning etc.). I wasn’t to know it at the time, but this is precisely the thinking behind Google+ and specifically Google+ Circles.

Of course, each person’s social and information graph could span both internal (to Knowledge Hub) and external (the web) environments. Consequently the design incorporated facilities to link to conversations happening on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, together with external blogs and RSS feeds. The aggregated feeds would be stitched together using a ‘filterable’ activity stream that included internal (Knowledge Hub) conversations. The user would then see relevant information (i.e. people and topics they had chosen to follow) coming to them rather than having to go out and find it.

Since all content would be tagged (some automatically), aggregated streams would show topics that were trending (similar to what Twitter has recently released as Tailored Trends), thereby helping to manage the information torrent. The system would also support powerful semantic search across all of this content.

The original specification also included support for the development of mobile and web apps, using tools that would enable non-technical users to create these apps, similar to the facilities provided by iBuildApp, but specific to local government data and services.

I noted that one comment referred to local government still being wedded to long and confusing email chains. This was also a consideration in the original design specification, and a feature was included to enable blogging direct from email, i.e. the user didn’t have to learn to use any new tools to create a blog post – they could do it all from their email account.

An important point to note was that the community of practice facilities (as currently being debated on Dave Briggs’ blog) were meant to be a step on the way, and not an end in itself, which is what I think the Knowledge Hub has become. The unfortunate conjunction of original concepts and vastly cut-down capabilities (per the original specification) has resulted in a just-about-adequate user interface (UI), but a fairly hostile user experience (UX). If you’re not sure about the difference between UI and UX, check this blog I posted a while back.

To my mind, this is proving to be the biggest drag on user engagement and activity. Knowledge Hub is a complex system, but a good UX design will ensure this complexity is hidden, and that navigation and actions become intuitive. This can be achieved by being aware at all times about what a user is trying to achieve (e.g. filing a document, writing a blog) and ensuring that:

  • links and sign-posting are contextually relevant
  • each process has a logical flow
  • there are no dead ends
  • action links are defined by verbs (e.g. write a blog, file a document)

If experienced social network/social media users like me, or Dave Briggs, find the environment a little confusing, I can only sympathise with users who are only just starting to embrace the world of the social web.

Since I doubt there will be any major changes made to the UI or UX, the effort falls on the Knowledge Hub support team and community facilitators to ensure that users understand how to get the best out of the system. And this will be hard work.

Going forward, I would encourage the LGA think about re-convening the Knowledge Hub Advisory Group. These were highly experienced knowledge, information and data professionals who helped me to shape the original specification and acted as critical friends throughout the procurement, architecture and design stages. They were disbanded when I left the project and all subsequent strategic design decisions were folded into a small in-house project team. A case of  “none of us are as smart as all of us” perhaps!

I hope I’ve gone some way to setting the record straight on what Knowledge Hub was meant to be. Community of practice facilities were just a small part of a much bigger idea, sadly not realised.

Other blogs in this sequence:

 

 

 

 

 

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Government launches public sector app store

I came across this artcle on the BBC website today. For those who remember my involvement with the early design and business requirements for the Knowledge Hub, the Khub App store was one of the main features of the new platform. Regretably it got lost in the budget cuts (or was de-priotised?), and hence an opportunity lost.  As can be seen from the announcement, this could have been a net revenue stream for LGA as opposed to being perceived as adding to bottom line costs. See this earlier blog post.

To quote from the BBC article:

“It is hoped the service will allow organisations to purchase services on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, rather than be locked into lengthy contracts. They typically include services such as email, word processing, system hosting, enterprise resource planning and electronic records management.

The Cloudstore would help contribute to overall planned savings of £180m by 2015, the government said, although a spokesman admitted it was “difficult to anticipate total saving with the constant changes in technology”.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Simply stated, purchasing services from Cloudstore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike.This bold move has potential to showcase the UK as a global leader in online service delivery, providing the procurement culture in government evolves to take advantage.”

And the following could almost have been lifted word for word from my original business case:

“Cloudstore (read Khub Appstore) represents a revolution in how the public sector buys (procures) software and services,” Chief executive Suraj Kika said.  My additions in brackets.

However, whilst feeling (perhaps understandably?) frustrated that the App Store never got implemented for KHub, I am encouraged that UK Gov have seen the benefits of using an app store as a cost-effective way of procuring and delivering business software, at a time when more and more users are getting familiar with this way of accessing and using new functionality. As I mentioned in my original article, the benefits of this distribution model are:

  • Easy to use and trusted conduit of software.
  • Download model is widely understood by both consumers and developers of software.
  • ‘Mashup’ tools will make it easy for apps to be built and shared by anyone.
  • Provides centralised control and value-add including commercial, security, access controls, digital rights.
  • Stimulates ideas for compelling new business scenarios and service innovation.
And of course users have the advantage of discarding or updating their apps if they no longer serve their immediate business requirements.
So, presumably local councils seeking to make cost savings in the procurement and distribution of new business applications will make the most of this new Cloudstore. I think the business case is pretty compelling.
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Maximising the power of collective knowledge

Introduction

This is a summary of one of the breakout session I ran at the Cisco Public Services Summit, Oslo 9-11 December 2011.  It describes the role of Communities of Practice in supporting more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing between organisations working in the public sector. It notes the key lessons learnt from a 6-year journey, starting from the launch of the UK local government CoP platform in 2006 and how this led to an ambitious attempt to create a new kind of platform for online collaboration and data sharing – the Knowledge Hub.  The slides are embedded at the foot of this post, and also available at Slideshare.

Project Purpose

The main purpose of the project was to break down some of the silo’d work practices both within councils and across the public sector. Local councils were delivering the same set of services, but were not learning from each other about good/best practice. This was also the first time that communities of practice had been used within the public sector environment as a process and methodology for encouraging knowledge sharing and personal development.

I’ve made clear in the slides the difference between “Communities of Practice” (CoPs) and “Social Networks”. Put simply, CoPs operate from a sense of shared values and objectives. Social Networks support a far more personalised agenda, or in other words, its “we” as opposed to “me”.

The following points correspond to the slide presentation, and as noted previously, represent the lessons learnt from a 6-year journey.

Communities of Practice – Lessons Learnt

1. Don’t expect everyone to join in.

Command and control structures are alive and well, particularly in public sector organisations.  Joining a CoP where status and rank mean nothing, and where the free-flow of knowledge is encouraged can be a bit of a culture shock for some people.  By all means encourage colleagues and managers to join, but accept that collaboration and knowledge sharing doesn’t come easy to some people. Concentrate efforts instead on building trust between those who want to be there and create a safe haven for knowledge.

2. Community Facilitation is essential.

You need a community facilitator or moderator to provide cohesion and maintain direction for the CoP. Almost without exception, the most successful CoPs had a good and effective facilitator. Some of the roles and duties of a facilitator include:

  1. Supporting sociability, relationship and trust building
  2. Seeding and feeding discussion topics
  3. Maintaining and sustaining the community ‘rhythm’.
  4. Curating and signposting knowledge artefacts for capture and reuse
  5. Helping to connect community members
  6. Providing help with the CoP tools and facilities
  7. Ensuring the community space is kept “tidy” and navigable
  8. Reporting CoP activity – metrics, evaluations, newsletters
  9. Monitoring success criteria and impact.

3.  Establish your KPIs.

Be clear about what your CoP is trying to achieve. Remember this is a “community” so engage with the members to agree purpose and intended outcomes.  Once the purpose and outcomes are agreed you can identify the metrics that will measure progress. Try to use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data for the metrics you measure.

When monitoring the metrics, remember that each CoP will have a particular rhythm or cycle. Some will be light on discussion and strong on shared document building and vice versa. Others will be ‘one-shot’ supporting a single challenge.  Not all communities will be a hive of activity; some will support its participants at a low level of interaction over a long period, others for short bursts around face-to-face-meetings or events.

Key lesson: Don’t rely on metrics to claim your community is successful; use metrics and indicators to understand your community better. 

4. ROI can be measured.

You can guarantee that someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about return on investment. I’d much prefer to consider the “I” in ROI as meaning “Impact”, but we live in a world where – for some – value can only be measured in terms of cash saved.  Be prepared for this and consider how ROI can be quantified. In the example for local government CoPs we identified cash savings for online (virtual) conferences compared to physical (face to face) conferences and found that on average £8000 can be saved for each on-line conference.  Online conferences have now become a fairly regular feature, so the potential savings continue to accrue.

5. Hotseats generate heat!

Hotseats are where you invite a recognised expert or illuminory to spend some time answering questions from the community. The event should be promoted and advertised in advance to generate interest, and the person invited into the hotseat can seed the discussions by issuing a statement or question (possibly controversial) prior to the hotseat starting. Questions and answers are posted in the forum. The event can generate a lot of interest and discussions within the community usually continue long after the hotseat has finished.

6.  Use stories to promote the benefits

Don’t just rely on newsletters, statistics or case studies to promote the benefits of the CoP. Bring it alive through stories and anecdotes from the community members. Publish, promote and reward these stories. There is no better endorsement for the success of a CoP than from the CoP members themselves.

Knowledge Hub

The final part of the session was devoted to the thinking behind the development of a “next generation” community of practice platform – the “Knowledge Hub”.  What problems were we trying to fix with this new platform?  Briefly stated these were:

  • Over 80% of the CoPs had been set up as private spaces (gated access via the Facilitator as opposed to just being able to join).  In effect these were silo’d knowledge repositories. We wanted a system that would encourage more interaction between CoPs.
  • There was lack of permeability with external (outside the firewall) conversations. We wanted a system that could easily integrate with external web services.
  • We wanted to address the perennial issue of information overload, perhaps more accurately described as “filter failure”.  Using explicit data provided by the user in their on-line profile, e.g. where they work, their area of expertise, what groups they join, etc., filters could be established to improve the relevance of information received.
  • In a similar way to the way that Amazon works, we wanted to track user behaviour (their digital footprint) in order to “push” relevant information – e.g. conversations, events, and documents to the users.
  • We wanted active and guided navigation to help users find and access relevant knowledge.
  • We wanted to tap into the emerging market for mashups and apps; providing users with the tools to combine and link data to create value-added apps for improving council services.
  • We wanted to reduce development costs and open up the architecture to enable developers and entrepreneurs to create additional value. We would use open source software and adopt open standards (e.g. OAuth, OpenSocial, OpenGraph etc.).

However, as with all things public sector, the budget was radically scaled back early in 2011 and consequently not all of these features will be implemented. The cut-down version of the local government platform was launched 27 October 2011. (http://knowledgehub.local.gov.uk).

But the dream lives on. With support from PFI Knowledge Solutions (Knowledge Hub developers) a roadmap of future enhancements for their innovative Intelligus platform may eventually deliver all of the original requirements. More on this later; a matter of “watch this space”!

I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the Community of Practice project mentioned above, or the Intelligus platform that may realise the original vision for the Knowledge Hub.

 

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Entry for Management Innovation eXchange M-Prize

The Management Innovation Exchange(MIX) is “an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age.”

One of the MIX initiatives is the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation. There are two types of entries: an instructive case study (a Story) or an experimental design (a Hack).  The goals is to show how Web 2.0 values (including transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, openness, community and self-determination) can help overcome the design limits of Management 1.0—and help to create Management 2.0.

I have submitted a case study (story) about the Knowledge Hub, a project I initiated over 2 years ago but only now being rolled out for UK Local Government. The concept was part of a 3-year Knowledge Management Strategy I was commissioned to deliver for the Improvement and Development Agency – an organisation that  has since been integrated into the Local Government Group. The underlying idea was to provide a central ‘Hub’ that would collect and aggregate data and information from many sources (including blog and Twitter feeds) and use semantic technology to link and categorise the content. The system would then match and push relevant content to users according their interest graph and their social graph.

Although the project was spec’d over 2 years ago, I’ve noticed that many of the features being rolled out in Google+ are very similar to features being delivered in the Knowledge Hub, e.g. Circles (social graph) and Sparks (interest graph).  It’s just a pity I didn’t have their resources available to me when I started this project!

I hope you will take a a moment to look at the article and let me know what you think. You can comment on it and/or rate it. Your views would be appreciated.

NB: For anyone interested in the technology, the Knowledge Hub is an open system, using open standards and open source software.  It is hosted on the PFIKS Intelligus platform.

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Knowledge Hub – part 5: Day of the App

appstore apps

Continuing my sequence of blog posts about the Knowledge Hub, the new and innovative community and collaboration platform for the UK public sector. I am devoting this post to the Knowledge Hub’s “App Store” facilities that will get delivered in the next development phase (no dates yet, but potentially around Sept/Oct 2011).

I think maybe a pause here for a definition as to what an “app” is and how this might differ from a ‘widget’ or a ‘plug-in’.

“App” is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of software. It can run on the Internet, on your computer, or on a mobile platform, such as a smart phone or tablet device (e.g. iPad). Apps have become synonymous with Apple’s iTunes App Store, where proprietary apps can be downloaded for use on any Apple product. Platform/device independent apps can be accessed from the Android Market.

Web-based apps (device and software independent apps that are accessed and run from the ‘Cloud’) include Google Apps,. Common applications include calendars, webmail and on-line documents. Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers. The ability to update and maintain web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity, as is the inherent support for cross-platform compatibility

A “widget’ is software that can be embedded into an app, or in the case of a Web Widget it can be installed and executed within a web page. A widget is usually tied to a platform, such as an iPhone widget.

A plug-in is a set of software components that adds specific abilities to a larger software application. Plug-ins are commonly used in web browsers to play video, scan for viruses, and display new file types. Well-known plug-ins examples include Adobe Flash Player and QuickTime.

Knowledge Hub will support apps, widgets and plug-ins, but for the purpose of this post, I will use the generic label ‘apps’ to include all of these varieties.

opensocial image

All apps on Knowledge Hub will conform to the OpenSocial standard, which has been supported by a number of vendors, such as Google, MySpace, Yahoo!, IBM, Oracle, Saleforce.com, Ning, Plaxo, XING, Six Apart, LinkedIn, to name a few. This means that that the app will be interoperable with any other social network system that supports this standard. This is part of the underlying “open standards” design philosophy for Knowledge Hub, which is positioned as an “open” alternative to the Facebook Platform.

Why is any of this important? Well if you’re not one the several million smart phone users that are accessing and downloading the million or so apps available from the various app stores, then maybe you’re not aware of what the fuss is about. This is clearly a growing market – some analyts are quoting growth of over 70% for this year alone.

For the public sector it offers new and exciting ways of delivering products and services at a fraction of the cost of traditional channels (e.g. online transactional websites). Opportunities will be fuelled by the growth of publicly available government/local government data (Open Data). This offers a number of models that can be exploited by users of the Knowledge Hub, e.g.:

  • downloadable mobile or desktop apps – Apple-style app store approach. These apps can make use of externally hosted datasets registered on Knowledge Hub, datasets uploaded to and registered within Knowledge Hub and external datasets not registered on KHub.
  • hosted web apps – runs on a server somewhere and the user logs into it via a browser. Knowledge Hub could in principle provide hosting capabilities for this kind of web app as part of a ‘premium’ service to the sector, but demand for this sort of facility will need to be tested with users and stakeholders.
  • client-side Javascript mashups, visualisations, apps. Code that is downloaded as part of a web page and runs as Javascript inside the user’s browser.

As with the majority of the commercial app stores, Knowledge Hub will encourage users to rate and review the apps they download in order to identify the most popular apps.

The main benefits of the apps store can be summarised as follows:

  • Easy to use and trusted conduit of software.
  • Download model is widely understood by both consumers and developers of software.
  • ‘Mashup’ tools will make it easy for apps to be built and shared by anyone.
  • Provides centralised control and value-add including commercial, security, access controls, digital rights.
  • Stimulates ideas for compelling new business scenarios and service innovation.

Though I’ve frequently mentioned mobile devices in this post, this does not mean apps are just for small screens. Newspapers and e-books have started to wrap their content in apps that come with additional features, hoping that it will allow them to charge for more things. And as other electronic devices—television sets, alarm clocks, e-readers and even electricity meters—become smarter and more connected, consumers will be able to download apps for these too. Perhaps, in the end, everything will have an app!

Some examples of where apps are being used in local government:

Scores on the Doors lets you and I see businesses’ and schools’ hygiene ratings by searching through its online database. You can check the hygiene ratings for any takeaways, pubs, clubs, schools, restaurants and food halls in your area (as long as your council is one of the 200 participating in this scheme!)

food hygiene

Smartphone owners can report graffiti, vandalism and anti-social behaviour in Wokingham thanks to a new app. The Looking Local app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch enables residents to use a ‘Report It’ feature to let Wokingham Borough Council about problems in their area.

Daventry District Council used location-based technology to improve refuse collection routes through better planned routes. This resulted in £223,000 savings from reduced mileage, less overtime, smaller vehicles and fewer rounds.

London Transport for iPhone – Real time journey planning, live departure boards, licensed taxi booking, wireless printing, bus stop timetables, nearby stops and stations, live traffic cameras, and more…

In a future post I will explain how apps can be developed using the Knowledge Hub’s “Mashup Centre“.

NB: Knowledge Hub is built and supported on the PFIKS Intelligus Platform

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Knowledge Hub Data and Apps Workshop

This blog post is to thank all of the participants (presenters and delegates) to the Knowledge Hub Data & Apps workshop that was held in London yesterday (27 April 2011). The workshop was used to establish the foundations for the “KHub Data and Apps Advisory Group”, who we are hoping will help us to shape the forthcoming data/apps developments for the Knowledge Hub.

As readers of my previous posts about the Knowledge Hub may be aware, the first (Beta) release will go live next month (May – exact date TBD). This represents the completion of Sprint 9 of 22, which delivers the collaboration tools and facilities (blogs, wikis, library, events, people-finder, library, web conferencing, activity streams etc.). [NB. Sprints are the functional elements delivered as part of an agile development process].

The remainder of the Sprints will be delivering key data intelligence/data management features, including:

1. Semantic Matching Engine

  • Will match aggregated conversations, communities and topics to people;
  • Will suggest connections between people
  • Will recommend content according to explicit and implicit profile data

2. Data library/catalogue

  • Can upload data/datasets in semi-structured and machine readable formats (e.g. Excel, CSV,  XML)
  • Can identify and catalogue external (e.g. open and/or linked) datasets
  • Ability to create/edit metadata for each dataset (e.g. for provenance, licensing etc.)
  • Datasets can be permissioned.
  • Datasets will be indexed by the KHub search engine

3. Mashup Engine

  • Allows users to combine or compare data (meaningful comparisons will require a common schema)
  • Data can be ‘mashed’ using KHub-sourced data and external data sources.
  • Support for data visualisations
  • Features similar to mashup.org
  • Will use open source mapping services
  • Potential to provide index of SPARQL end-points

4. App Store

  • Supports any app compliant with the OpenSocial standard
  • Mashups developed on KHub can be simply added to the App Store
  • Will include reviews and star ratings
  • Support for free and commercial (licensed) apps
  • Apps will be able to use data from both Khub (via an API) and/or external sources

Data Repository

  • Requirements to be refined, but intention is to be able to support triple-stores (RDF/SPARQL) and XQuery/XML)

All of the above is scheduled to be developed and released between June and October this year. The Data & Apps Advisory Group will be instrumental in shaping these features and capabilities, as well as providing advice on the underlying support and operational procedures, and skills/training needs.

Initial outputs from the workshop are available on the Knowledge Hub Community of Practice (Data and Apps Advisory Group Theme).

Terms of Reference for the Data & Apps Advisory Group is in the attached PDF. If anyone with the appropriate skills and knowledge wishes to be involved in this group, then please let me know (add your expression of interest into the comments section of this blog).

I will post an update to this blog once the full report from the workshop is available.

pdf-logo
Data & Apps Advisory Group ToR
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Introduction to the Knowledge Hub

As we approach the first (Beta) release of the Knowledge Hub, a project that has consumed my very existence as lead consultant for these past 2 years, I thought I would share a presentation I put together for the Knowledge Hub Conference that was held on 1st March 2011 (yes, a month ago, but still relevant).  My previous blogs on this topic…

…will give some appreciation of the scope, scale and capabilities of the Knowledge Hub, but in a paragraph….

“The Knowledge Hub will build on Local Government (LG) Improvement and Development’s community of practice (CoP)-based approach to knowledge management. It will support multiple communities, using the best features and functionality that have evolved through the development of the CoP service. It will offer a range of free tools and services to help the sector share and analyse their data and engage more effectively online. It will provide a platform for developing and publishing open source applications created and owned by the sector.”

But even this doesn’t begin to explain what this is all about; an issue I was well aware of before the 1st March conference.  Until people are actually using the Knowledge Hub and exploring for themselves its capabilities, any text-heavy communication is likely to paint a rather abstract picture in people’s minds.

Not that a PowerPoint slide set will achieve a level of understanding that I was striving for, but based on the old adage that “a picture paints a thousand words” it’s probably as good as I can do pending users experiencing the product for themselves.

The quirky angle on this was to consider how social media and the social web is currently being used (or not, as the case may be) across UK local government and the wider public sector (target audience for the Knowledge Hub). I’m only too aware of the fact that many public sector organisations block (or severely restrict) access to social media facilities for their staff.  Even after several years of accumulated evidence of how social media and social networks can lead to greater productivity and improved learning and sharing opportunities, the word ‘social’ means ‘wasting time’ or ‘reputational risk’ to many senior managers.

In order to realise the full benefits of the Knowledge Hub, users will need to have access to the rich conversations on their particular domain of knowledge that are happening beyond the limits of their enterprise firewall. Conversations – e.g. on blog sites or Twitter – that many staff can only access via their smart phones or when they are at home.  One of the many features of the Knowledge Hub is to aggregate and connect these conversations and associate them with user profiles – i.e. users see information that is relevant to them and not so much of the irrelevant noise.

One of the other features of the Knowledge Hub is the ability for councils to upload datasets – e.g. on performance – and compare (benchmark) with other councils, thereby highlighting potential areas for improvement or savings. Is this new? No! Most of us do something similar when we’re buying products, e.g. car insurance (e.g. Compare the Market/Meerkat), who’s got the best value in terms of coverage and cost?

And then there’s the issue of how we attach value and trust to what we read. Do we always believe what is in the travel brochure, or do we check out websites such as Tripadvisor to find out what real people have to say about the hotel or resort we’re thinking of booking? Similarly for the Knowledge Hub, where we’ll be able to see peer reviews of documents and other knowledge assets, and gain a degree of confidence in using or adapting that particular policy or process.

And not forgetting our Amazon experience, where recommendations are made on what we’ve previously bought. In a similar way, the Knowledge Hub will recommend contacts, workspaces (communities) and documents based on what the user has flagged as relevant, or what the user has shared in their personal profile (e.g. expertise, location etc.).

So, most people seem to be comfortable using social web facilities and applications in their personal lives, and maybe not even realising they are doing so. All we need to do is to provide a trusted and secure environment where these same activities can be conducted in a business environment.  The real power of the Knowledge Hub is that you don’t even have to go to lots of different websites and applications – each with their unique design and interface – to find the information you need to do your job, or to do those performance comparisons or download that app you need. You can do it all in one place  – let the data and information come to you! That, in essence, is the Knowledge Hub!

Check out the slides below. The Slideshare originals include notes, which will explain why the elephant appears (a clue – it’s to do with the time, pain and anguish of public sector procurement!)

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Knowledge Hub – part 4: Social Graph and Activity Stream

Continuing with my posts about the Knowledge Hub (Beta release in April 2011):

I wanted to touch on another of the key features being delivered by the new system, the ‘Social Graph’ and ‘Activity Stream’. These are intimately related and hence it makes sense to discuss them as one feature or capability.

Social Graph

A social graph in its broadest context is the mapping of everyone and how they are related.  The term is usually used to refer to online identities, e.g. as used within social networks.

As of 2011, the largest social graph in the world is Facebook’s, which contains the largest number of defined relationships between the largest number of people among all websites due to the fact that it is the most widely used social networking service in the world. (Source: Wikipedia).

Concern has focused on the fact that Facebook’s social graph is owned by the company and is not shared with other services, giving it a major advantage over other services and disallowing its users to take their graph with them to other services if they wish to do so, such as when a user is dissatisfied with Facebook. Google, has attempted to offer a solution to this problem by creating the Social Graph API, released in January 2008, which allows websites to draw publicly available information about a person to form a portable identity of the individual, in order to represent a user’s online identity.

You can see what your Facebook social graph looks like by adding the Social Graph App. Mine looks like this:

Facebook Social Graph

If you’re a member of the LinkedIn network (an open standards network), you can generate your own social graph here.

Mine looks like this:

LinkedIn Social Graph

The first release of the Knowledge Hub will not support a graphical representation as shown in the examples above, but the system itself will maintain the data representation, which will be used for managing the activity stream described below. A graphical representation will be considered for a future release.

The Knowledge Hub is an open platform that is adopting Open Standards wherever relevant and possible. We will be exploring the use of Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) standards for creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. FOAF defines an open, decentralised technology for connecting social Web sites, and the people they describe.

Activity Stream

The activity stream is a chronologically ordered list of activities of ‘friends’ or contacts that have been mapped to the ‘Social Graph’ for each individual user.  Facebook users will no doubt be familiar with the activity stream (referred to as the ‘News Feed’ in Facebook) showing what their friends are doing and saying.  Only people who are in the user’s social graph (i.e. those who have been confirmed as ‘friends’) will show up in the activity stream.

activity stream

Any and all actions are logged in the activity stream such as writing or commenting on a blog, uploading a document or photo, confirming attendance at a meeting, joining a new workspace or group etc. The system will automatically create an activity stream (or ‘digital footprint’) for each user, based on the actions they carry out.  Each user will see an aggregated stream of activities for all of the people in their social graph, and for the workspaces that they have joined.  Filters will be available for showing the activities for a specific user (who must be either part of your social graph or a member of one of the workspaces you have joined), or updates from the members of a workspace to which you belong, or just your own updates (a ‘Me’ filter).  It will also be possible to block updates from a specific user, e.g. if you find their activities irrelevant or overwhelming!

So, what’s the benefit of all of this?

Activity streams are ubiquitous to any social network; I’ve mentioned Facebook, but they are also present in LinkedInFriendfeedTwitter and just about any other social network you can mention. The activity stream provides information and intelligence about events that are likely to be relevant to a user and the broader workspace.community members.  The user’s social graph is built up over time and includes people who the user has specifically identified as ‘people of interest’, for example:

  • a shared interest or hobby
  • working for the same organization
  • working in the same location or region
  • having a similar job
  • an expert in a topic you are following
  • a thought leader
  • etc.

We expand our networks and our knowledge by social interaction, i.e. we learn from others.  When we’re in meetings we pick up lots of information from the tacit conversations we have with our colleagues. The activity streams we see in these virtual spaces are fulfilling a similar function, albeit far more powerful, because we can pick up on ALL the conversations and activities from a group as opposed to just the people we have had the time to talk to in a meeting.

For example, how useful might it be to know that your colleague had just joined a community of practice that you were completely unaware of, but given you both have similar jobs is likely to be as relevant to you as it is to your colleague? Or to know that another colleagues have just posted information about a conference that is looks highly relevant to you?

There are many other tools, facilities and capabilities embedded into the Knowledge Hub, but in my opinion, the most powerful and useful of them all is the activity stream, because it provides the ‘glue’ that links otherwise unconnected actions and events together, providing both a lens and a filter on the things that are most likely to be of interest to you.

For the next Knowledge Hub post I’ll talk about some of the exciting developments around the App Store.

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