Drupal for KM – or WordPress or Google?

Question: What framework would you set up to support a relatively small but diverse community of practice, mixing academics, city governments and business development organisations, allowing good practices to be qualified, shared and translated into practical expertise.

A knowledge management system would seem to form part the solution. It doesn’t have to be complex, in fact needs to be cheap to implement and run – we are talking less than 20 members and a few hundred documents at most. I can think of such functional requirements for the system as:

  • Document uploading, searching
  • Some form of categorisation system
  • System for tracking issues and questions and linking them to the body researching them and then providing answers

The Drupal way

It’s probably information management rather than knowledge management, but some consultants believe they can create a viable solution using Drupal:

The diagram explains StressFree’s conception:

Blogs, user groups and wikis

KM through blogs, user groups and wikis

At one level, both these items show Drupal in a good light: an open source solution that allows consultants to make money by adding value to bare installations, while freely sharing knowledge with each other. The downside is (from what I know of Drupal): good concept, but I bet it’s a pig to configure everything to work together nicely – which is why consultants can make their money and have the incentive to plough their experience back into the community I suppose.

I like Dig It All’s idea of using the power of search engines: if you are happy for your community to work in the open, you can immediately leverage Google into your information tracking process, including searches of Word and PDF documents.

This brings me to my issues with the StressFree’s model:

  • Where do they fit the uploaded documents? Some will be externally authored, others with be data while yet others will be published papers formally reporting the results of some aspect of the community’s work. All vital ingredients in the knowledge soup, but needing careful management.
  • A similar question arises with external links – eg the case studies at epractice.eu would be relevant in my field of work.
  • Finally, some form of FAQ, glossary or question tracking system is also needed.

I am pretty sure that Drupal has solutions to all these (though there is an acknowledged lack of support for document management), but it could start getting very complicated when you’re integrating this number of independent modules…

The Google option

Back to DigItAll solutions (geddit? I only just did): they have another approach too for the real cheapos: Google. They point out that a combination of:

  • Google chat for discussion while editing
  • Google documents, for their built in versioning and support of shared editing
  • YouTube for multimedia
  • Google calendar for scheduling

Could well work, for simple communities at least. This solution is subject to the usual caveats over ownership and control of the data that apply to any American controlled and hosted service.

Is WordPress another solution?

As I’m typing this, I’m thinking that almost all the functionality is present in WordPress, at least for small projects that don’t need access restrictions for individual topics. Pages maintained by individuals, using comments for suggested changes would provide 80% of the functionality of a wiki and 120% of the usablity (many people struggle with wiki notations). (And I’ve just remembered that WordPress.com now does versioning too, reducing the risk of accidentally deleting or overwriting content.)

Mmm…

Update 19 November: Retitled, and added links to Drupal discussions on document management.

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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