It’s summer and that means that news is sometimes announced during a period while people are about to go – or just coming back from holiday. This happened to me when ConnectionsExpert 2.0 was released just before I went on holiday. Which meant that I wasn’t able to share my excitement over its inception as much as I would have liked to and that’s also why you are now reading this blog post with a few weeks delay. Don’t worry though, my excitement over this release is still the same!
So what’s ConnectionsExpert?
For those that don’t know, ConnectionsExpert is a tool from panagenda that allows you to gain deep dive information about the health status, usage and adoption rates of your IBM Connections environment by collecting and displaying key metrics and monitoring information about the platform and its usage. As a team we’ve been working hard to further expand the features of ConnectionsExpert and that has resulted in this new release! Continue reading ConnectionsExpert 2.0 released!
Sometimes with large updates you miss the little things that make the difference… One I missed with the release of Connections 5.5 was that apparently the indexing on attachments has been added for Activities & Forums now:
in 5.5: “IBM Connections supports the indexing of file attachment content from the Files, Wikis, Library (Enterprise Content Manager files), Activities, and Forums applications. Content from file attachments in Blogs is not searched.” source
Was: “IBM Connections supports the indexing of file attachment content from the Files and Wikis applications. Content from file attachments in Activities, Blogs, and Forums is not searched.” source
For most people probably not a big thing but it means that now at least one will be able to search for content in the documents that were added as attachments to forums and activities. Something that was often causing headaches to users who couldn’t find back information they were sure they had added to IBM Connections.
It’s still wise to train your users to upload files to a community or personal files first and share them from there (as it allows things like locking, version management and commenting) but all in all still a very nice little feature of 5.5 that had slipped under my radar!
It has been a busy month all over but the last two weeks have been extremely busy. Both with a major project at a customer going live this weekend as well as with two conferences last week and this week. I had a great day on October 28th at the IBM Client center for SNoUG the Swiss Notes User Group and congratulate the SNoUG team on their effort of setting up a fantastic event. I really enjoyed it and found the sessions, connections I made and information I got from the sponsor booths extremely helpful.
I also want to give a big thanks to the team, speakers, sponsors and attendees of Social Connections in Stuttgart who helped make that a great event. After having left the SOCCNX team at the end of SOCCNX 5 due to work pressures and missing the last three events it felt like a warm bath to join the team back for SOCCNX 9. Organizing an event like that with 270 attendees, 65+ speakers and 22 sponsors in a remote location (ok for me) like Stuttgart always is a big challenge but I think we can say it was a big success and completely in line with all the other Social Connections events!
Below I’ve attached the slide decks I used for my presentations both at SNoUG in Zurich on October 28th 2015 and the one in Stuttgart for Social Connections. As the last one was only a short (15min) one the slide deck for that one is significantly shorter than the first one. Enjoy!
At one of my customers a user complained about the fact that every time he opened a publicly shared file it would automatically ‘follow’ that file. This meant that every subsequent ‘like’, change or comment to that file would show up in his timeline. Of course he could ‘unfollow’ the file but found it irritating that it would follow it at all without him making that conscious decision.
After testing and a little digging by our admins it turns out that indeed this is the default behavior for IBM Connections and can be managed by changing a setting in the files-config.xml:
So no big deal but we did have a bit of a discussion as to why this setting is there in the first place and if it is logical. Yes, there is a case to make for auto-follow as that will ensure you keep track of subsequent changes to that file. After all, a publicly shared file that you don’t follow or isn’t in a community that you follow is sometimes hard to track but at the same time it can be quite annoying. In an environment with thousands of users and where public files are shared and mentioned in other sources like the intranet, auto-following a file simply because you opened it once, can cause lots of updates in your activity stream by other people ‘liking’, commenting or editing the file. Information you might not be interested in at all as you only just wanted to read it that once.
To be honest, I think this is one of those settings that can be interpreted either way. The bigger discussion now is do we disable it? This user clearly finds it annoying but what about all those other users? Do they want to auto-follow or not? The setting is org-wide so any change will influence all. You can’t just change the default behavior of a system used by thousands of users without annoying at least some. I guess this is something that will have to be decided by the the business.
So what do you think: Is auto-follow indeed the logical behavior or not in a Enterprise Social Network and how does your organization handle it?
So in the previous three post I explained a bit about the ins and outs of IBM Connections folders, the different flavours you have and how they work and differ from each other. But the question now is how do you use them…?
I’m not going to tell you.
The truth is that each organization is different and each situation is different. IBM Connections is a social business platform that offers you tools that can help you stimulate collaborative work and knowledge sharing and there really is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ as long as you can achieve that. Having all three different types of folders (Shared Folders, CCM Folders and Community Folders) means you just got more options to find YOUR way. But to do so it is important to understand how each of them function, what their strongholds are as well as possible weaknesses. In the previous 3 blogs I’ve tried to give you an overview of those strengths and weaknesses.
Having so many options that work so differently at times can be quite confusing. Can you prevent users from using a certain type of folders?
Well in a way yes, by simply deactivating the whole feature. Shared Folders is part of the personal files, as far as I know you can’t easily deactivate those without deactivating personal Files too but I’m no admin so check with your admin before dismissing that. CCM Folders require CCM Licensing and an additional installation. You can definitely choose not to buy it / install it. Then again, that would mean you lose some great features that CCM could offer to your organization so make sure you fully evaluate before deciding! Community folders, which is part of the default offering as of IBM Connections 4.5 CR4, has only recently been released and it requires a specific act from your administrator to activate so again, that is something that you can choose to do, or not.
But….! Don’t just dismiss these options. Make sure you test them and discuss them with your users. They might in fact solve problems you weren’t even aware of. In that sense, having so many different options also means you have a rich variety of possible use cases. Just make sure you are aware of how each works.
So what would I recommend?
Well, again, it’s all up to your situation, organization and needs. But there a few things I would definitely recommend:
Do not implement CCM just so your users have nested folders…. Yes, I know having this option is a great selling point for CCM but it will always fall short in replicating the functioning of their file shares, even with subfolders. If that was the only reason to implement it, users will only get disappointed. Instead, highlight the other benefits of social file sharing and look at the other features CCM offers like approval cycles, document types and the option of having users control the security access levels to it. Use that to show users why CCM could be a great thing to use.
Inform users of the Ownership differences between Community Files/Folders and Personal Files/Folders. Try to come up with a strategy with them, on when to use what. There are clear cases where personal files are preferred but in other situations community files can be a better way to go. If for no other reason than to at least make sure they are, by default, editable to all community members or ensure a better security within a community.
Do not use Shared folders in Restricted communities. See this blog for an explanation why.
Train your key users so they know how IBM Connections Files & Folders work and provide cheat sheets so they can understand and explain to other users why certain things work the way they work.
Try & experiment. As stated before, IBM Connections is a platform offering more than one way to go. That is its strength but sometimes is also seen as its weakness as it can be confusing to users. Find out what works for your organization and base your content strategy on that.
Lastly, but probably most importantly…. If you haven’t done so yet, explain to users what the key thoughts behind IBM Connections is and try to get them to realize that when it comes to Sharing information in a social platform, the premise about who should have access to a file or folder shouldn’t be “I, unless…” but “Everyone, unless…”!
So have I covered everything there is to know about IBM Connections folders? No! There are whole areas I haven’t even touched upon. So I will most likely be publishing more blogs on this topic in the future. In the meantime, let me know if you thought this series was helpful or if you have any questions by posting in the comments.
When I was starting this series of blogs on the different options of sharing files & folders within IBM Connections it was mostly influenced by my own interest in how it all worked. As a Business Consultant specializing in both Document Management as well as Social Business anything having to do with structuring file management interests me. So after our test environment was upgraded to IBM Connections 4.5 CR4 I set out to test how the new Community Folders option fitted in with the two existing Folder options in IBM Connections: Shared Folders and CCM Folders.
Truth is that I find certain things kind of confusing...
A big part of this is that IBM Connections is a Social Platform, concentrated on offering users ways of sharing large quantities of information that is mostly unstructured. This, in contrast to ERP and document management systems that deal mostly in structured information. But the lines between structured and unstructured information is not as clear cut as most people would like it to be. Certain documents could fall in both categories depending on the user or situation and because of this you see that more and more solutions are trying to straddle the fence between structured & unstructured information management. With overlaps in functionality and requirements and often confusion as a result. It’s a common problem for most systems trying to manage diverse flows of information.
The place where this is most visible within IBM Connections is the way it handles Files & Folders.
‘Social die-hards’ will tell you that in situations where unstructured information is stored and a need for organizing or categorizing arises, folders fall short. They advocate “tagging”, another feature IBM Connections has.
I agree! Tagging, a more fluid and user driven way of categorizing and linking files, can greatly help in making unstructured information more findable. Tagging, by being flat instead of hierarchically structured, allows a file to have numerous tags by numerous people. Often even giving weight to the number of people who tag something and how often it is tagged with the same tag. A file can have dozens of tags but in general can only be in one folder so when a file is not as unilaterally recognizable as belonging to one category folders often fall short as you have to choose, whereas tagging will simply allow you to have multiple completely unrelated tags.
The problem is though that users like folders. It gives them a sense of structure, and frankly…, they are used to it. Plus they sometimes offer additional options like limiting what users can do (CCM folders for instance that allow for approval cycles on documents added to their folders) and offering options to link folders to communities.
So IBM implemented folders. At first only as in Shared folders. And as it figured restricting files to only one folder wasn’t ‘social’ they gave files the option of being shared with more than one shared folder. That was actually quite inventive but users wanted more. They wanted nested folders. So then, with the advent of CCM, users got CCM Folders with security options and the much asked for option to nest folders (subfolders). That was a major change that a lot of users liked as it was something they were used to while using file shares. Unfortunately CCM did require additional licenses which, for a lot of organizations, proofed to be a big deterrent in implementing it. And lastly, with CR4, we now have Community folders.
Great! So enough choice for our users! What is the problem?
Confusion. That is the problem. When offering users features and functionalities you hope to offer them solutions that help them do their work. To do that they need to be aware of how it works and it needs to be logical. How can folders not be logical? You ask. Well, because folders in IBM Connections, as stated before, do not work the same as folders in for instance Windows. Regardless of what we think is logical in a social system, the users will always compare it to what they know, which in the case of ‘folders’ is windows. In a way, the first thing you need to teach your user therefore is that an IBM Connections folder is not a Windows Folder and once you’ve done that, you need to teach them that within IBM Connections a Folder is not a Folder either as CCM folders work differently from Community Folders and completely different from Shared Folders
Take for instance the fact that you can place (share) a file in more than one Shared Folder but only in one CCM or Community folder and there is your first confusion….
Even I, after several days of testing all the ins and outs of the Folders functionality in IBM Connections find myself wondering how certain things work so what I did was to create a simple list of some key features and actions and how each of the folder types responded to it. Keep in mind that as Community Folders is still quite new, certain things might still be in the pipeline (like mobile support) and that overall, IBM is constantly updating and improving IBM Connections. Things might change over time. Another factor to keep in mind is that this is list is far from complete. There are so many more features I didn’t even touch on yet but I still wanted to at least share what I have. I might blog more on some other features in the future:
Adding files to folders:
An important thing to know when working with folders is how you get your files into the folders. Can you for instance select multiple files at once by having a file picker option or do you need to go into each file independently to add it to a folder?…
Getting files into the folder:
Does the folder have an option to upload files directly from the the pc?
Yes, multiple at the same time
Yes, multiple at the same time
Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files to the folder that were uploaded into the community files first?
Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into your personal files first?
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into a CCM Library (both the one in which the folder is located as well as others located in the same Community) first?
Not easily. You can’t select files within the same library to add to a folder in the “Add Files” interface but you can go into individual files and use the “Move to folder” option to get them there. But only for files in the same library.
Yes, as long as that CCM Library is in the same community
Does the folder allow nested folders? (e.g. subfolders)
Adding files is one thing, moving them around between folders another!
Can files uploaded as personal files be moved between folders?
Can community files be moved between folders?
Can CCM files be moved between folders?
Yes, but only within the library they are in. If a community has more then one CCM library (this is very well possible) then files cannot be moved between libraries
Where do my Folders show up?
A big thing in working with any feature is that it’s behaviour is recognisable to the users. So I set out to test how folders and files in them are depicted to the users. Would they for instance be shown on the homepage of a community and how do you know in which folder a document is located?
Are the folders visible on the Homepage of the community?
Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section
No, you do see the most recently added files that are in it though in an overall list of files without indication in which folder they are stored
Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section
Can you see files recently added to folders on the community Homepage?
No, only in the Shared Folder itself. To see the files the user will have to open the Shared Folder
On the Community Homepage all recent CCM files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a CCM folder. There are no folders visible on the Homepage so from the homepage it is impossible to see whether that file is in the Library or within a folder within the library.
On the Community Homepage all recent files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a community folder.
Can you see on the details page of the file itself in which folder it is placed?
Yes, on the Sharing tab you can see with which folders a file is shared
Are the folders available in the mobile app? (iOS tested)
? (I couldn’t test this with my setup)
Is the folder (and files within it) visible in the IBM Connections plugin for Windows Explorer?
Not yet, but it is accessible through the Quickr Dektop enabler plugin and inclusion into the standard Windows IBM Connections plugin is said to be planned for a later release this year
Apart from the default options IBM Connections has some additional features you would normally not find in for instance a File system folder. These can help the user keep track of things changing and help them download document sets and are therefore great features!
Does the folder allow for subscribing to updates on the folder? (updates show up in the activity stream)
Does the folder offer an RSS feed?
Does the folder allow for bulk download of folder contents (e.g. all files in one ZIP file?)
It all works and all does what it needs to do but it doesn’t always work together or work together well. Moving files around, how you can share information in folders, where you see your information and what options you get… Each of these folder structures seems to have its own logic and implementation. That is what I find confusing and I’m sure a lot of users will find confusing too.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why certain things work differently and I can also understand that certain things are simply still under development (like the fact I can’t view community folders in my Windows Explorer plug-in) but the problem is most users might not understand if you don’t tell them. So there is a definite need, when implementing these features to explain them to your users. Better yet, come up with a content strategy.
In my next blog, the last of this series, I will talk a bit about the things you have to consider while deciding on how to use folders in IBM Connections.
This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing #1: Community Folders first
Ownership is quite important in IBM Connection when it comes to data. Why? Well because ownership isn’t always straight forward and sometimes data shouldn’t be public.
Obvious! Why would you even need to say that?
Well… The premises of any social platform like IBM Connections is to share. That means that in theory the thinking is that every file you put into your social platform should be ‘public’ (e.g. findable and accessible to all). Reality of course is that this is not always the case. Even in a very ‘open’ organization certain files will still require protection and limited access. This is one of the reasons why users in IBM Connections can specify “Sharing” settings on files they upload as well as folders and communities they create, restricting access to only specific groups or users. The basic idea is though, and this is something you feel very clearly when working with IBM Connections, that everything is open, unless.
How you can limit access is partly determined by where the files are stored. Looking specifically at files you can say that IBM Connections allows for two* main storage points:
By uploading it into a users personal Files section
By uploading it into a community
In the first case, uploading a file into personal files, the file will always remain in the ownership of the user. The standard security level setting for personal files is ‘Private’, meaning no one can access apart from the owner. The owner can however decide to make a file ‘Public’ (accessible to all) or grant specific Editor or Reader access to specific users, groups or communities. Ownership and full control will always remain with the original user though.
A file stored directly into the community however is different. Ownership of these files lies not with the user that uploaded it into the community but with the community. All users of that community from then on have equal rights to that document. This means that if the user uploads a file into a restricted community and is subsequently removed as a member of that community, the file remains in the community and is no longer accessible to the user that originally uploaded it.
A similar structure applies to folders. Folders created in a users personal files section will always remain in the ownership of that user. Folders created as Community folders and/or CCM folders however will always be property of the community, not the creating user. This also implies the biggest restriction which is that a folder created within a community or CCM Library can never be shared across communities while Folders created as personal folders can be shared with more then one community, group or user.
CCM folders have one added element to keep in mind which is that they allow for imposing additional access restrictions on folders by limiting edit access to specific subgroups of community users. You can for instance use this to restrict that only a few of the community users are allowed to edit the information in a CCM folder. Read access however will always be there to all community members though and the user creating the folder as well as the community owners cannot be revoked as owner of that folder unless they are removed from the community.
Shared folders versus Tags?
Which brings me to another peculiarity of shared folders…. A folder in the traditional sense as people know them from for instance their file drive is a place, a physical location to store a file. Meaning a file can only reside in one folder at the time. Shared folders however are different as a file can be added to more then one Shared folder. So in a way shared folders aren’t really ‘folders’ at all, they are collection sets and almost act the same as tags. After all a tag is nothing else then a categorization and several files having the same tag can be seen as a collection as well. The difference between a shared folder and a tag in IBM Connections is though, that you can control access and Share a shared folder and you can’t do that with a tag.
So keep in mind that a Shared folder is significantly different from a community or CCM folder as those are more aligned to the standard concept of folders while Shared Folders in a way hold the middle between a Tag and a folder.
Shared folders & security
So… why would you create folders within communities if personal (Shared) folders give you more options to share across communities & user groups and allow you to have information in them that is also shared in other folders? Well because there are some risks with having shared folders. For one, users don’t always realize the implications of putting a file in a folder shared by someone else.
No problem if the community (and therefore the data in it) is public anyway but what if you have a Restricted community that has a shared folder which is also shared with another Community? A user might think that because he is adding a file to a folder within the Restricted community that therefore the file itself is also only shared within that community. Unknowingly though he might be sharing that file with other users & communities. Only if he actively opens the sharing tab will he see that it is also shared with other communities and therefore visible to not only the users of the (restricted) community he thought he was adding it to, but any other communities/users that folder was shared with as well.
Example of a folder with the ‘Sharing’ tab opened to show this folder was shared with two communities
In theory the user who originally created the folder and shared it with the community could even be removed from that community while his shared folder would remain shared and visible within the community. Which means that any files added to that folder by any other community member after the user was removed from the community would effectively still be accessible to the user (creator of the folder). Using Shared folders in Restricted communities is therefore something I would strongly discourage to prevent confusion. In these situations Community folders and/or CCM folders should definitely be the first line of choice. Shared folders should only be used to share public info where it is no problem that it is visible across several public communities
Next up I will go into how you can work with the different types of folders and what differences and similarities are between them. I hope to publish this tomorrow.
* Files can also be uploaded in other places like Activities and blogs but from a standpoint of file management I am leaving these out for now
Last week CR4 for IBM Connections 4.5 came out. An intermediate update that had a few new options for file management in IBM Connections. One of which was the ability to add Communities folders. Until now the standard option to get a folder in a community Files section was to create one in your personal files and share that with the community. Control and ownership would however remain with the user, not the community. This has now been extended with the option to create a folder specifically in a Community itself. It does however pose some questions as now there are two (or three – depending on if your organization has implemented CCM) types of folders a user can use within a community. And all have their own specific features and quirks so time to do a little comparison!
Ok, first of all… Folders in a social environment like IBM Connections don’t necessarily work the same as folders we are used to in for instance a file system. I’m not comparing them to that and I think neither should you. However…. as they are called folders and look like folders and in many ways act like those folders in an ordinary file system, users will think they are… So it is important to understand what these folders in IBM Connections do exactly and how they function and to explain that to the user. It could make a big difference in keeping vital information safe and secure.
Folders in Communities
What type of folders do we have in IBM Connections Communities?
1). Shared Folders: In the personal files section of IBM Connections users have always had the option to create (Shared) folders. These can be used to organize files and can also be shared with either everyone (public) or with selective people/communities. If shared with a community the folder will show up in the folders tab of the Files section for that community. Files placed in the folder are visible to all users in the community as well as any other user or community that folder was shared with. Depending on the access given to the community by the original folder owner community members can also edit and even delete files in that folder.
2). CCM is a add-on feature that can be installed with IBM Connections to allow for (limited) document management features within Communities – including folders. The big difference to Shared & Community folders is that folders within CCM allow for nesting (subfolders, e.g. folders within folders) and for selectively limiting access to files for community members within folders and even the sub folder levels. In contrast: Community & Shared folders only have one access level which applies to the whole community they are shared with. Meaning that all community members are either reader, contributor or owner whereas a CCM Folder allows you to specify that for instance only a subset of community members can edit files in that folder and all others can only read. There is one restriction: Community members can never be denied access to a CCM folder. They will always have at least Reader access.
3). Community folders is the new kid on the block. This feature came out with version 4.5 CR4 and allows users to create folders directly in the Community Files. Why is this important? Well because ownership of that folder now solely lies with the community. A community folder can never be shared outside the community and someone who leaves the community (if it is a restricted community) will no longer have access to the folder or community files in it. Community folders also allow you to selectively “Follow” a folder. A great option if you want to be informed of updates to a specific folder but not to other community events.
Example of a folders section in the community files showing both a community as well as shared folder:
Example of a CCM folder containing both several files as well as a subfolder:
So… Now we know what we have it is time to look at some important things to keep in mind while using folders. In the next few days I will go into this in a few follow up blogs. First up is how Ownership is arranged in the different types of folders, so keep tuned
IBM Connections allows users to share personal folders with groups, communities and users. An ideal option to share sets of documents/files with multiple target audiences at the same time. There are however some caveats. Especially in situations where Shared Folders are used to share potentially sensitive information with Restricted (secured) communities. If your organization uses Shared Folders I would strongly advise looking at the below example to get an idea of the potential risks so you can assess if this is something that could cause problems in your organization:
User A creates a Shared Folder in his personal IBM Connections Files and places some files in it.
He then shares this folder with a community called “Demo Community” of which he is a member and which has restricted access. The folder is now visible and accessible in the Demo community to all community members:
Both User A as well as the community members can see the folder is shared with the community in the “Sharing” tab of the folder itself:
The Community admin then decides that User A should no longer be allowed access to the information in the community and revokes his access. User A cannot longer open the community.
As the Test folder was a personal folder that he shared with the Demo community though, User A is still able to access the folder from his personal Files&Folders section. If he looks at the “Sharing” tab of the folder there is no mention of the Demo Community anymore, it looks as if it is a private folder:
In reality though, the folder is still shared with the Demo Community and both visible and accessible to the members of that community. If they look at the “Sharing” tab of the Test Folder, “Demo Community” ís shown:
Effectively this means that they can still access, edit, delete and add files in the folder from within the community:
When they do, User A can see and access these newly added files in his folder but it must be very confusing for him to see users that are not listed in his Sharing settings perform actions on files in his folder:
So what’s the problem?
a). User A doesn’t see the name of the “Demo Community” as an entity with which this folder is shared after he was taken out of the community, so he has no way of knowing it is still accessible to the community members.
b). Because he can’t see that it is still shared with the restricted community, he can’t remove the sharing option either. Effectively this means he has no control over the folder access anymore apart from deleting the whole folder.
c). Even though he is no longer part of the Demo Community, his folder is. Users in that community (which is restricted) would have a reasonable expectation that the information they share within that community is limited only to members of that community. In reality though any files they place in this folder will be visible to User A (no longer a member of the community) and any other communities, groups or users he chooses to share the folder with.
I understand that the above situation is extreme and not likely to happen very often but it is important to be aware of this. There are other options that can be used instead of Shared Folders like CCM folders and the new Community folders (released in CR4 of IBM Connections 4.5). These are not owned by a user but by the community and would therefore not impose the same security flaw. I will be publishing another blog on the differences between Shared, Community and CCM folders over the next few days for those interested.
As announced the IBM Connections 4.5 release and the Connections Content Manager add-on were made available for download today through the appropriate channels. The following sites give information on features, links to relevant content and pricing: