IBM Connections Folders #3: working with folders

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing the previous blogs: #1: Community Folders and #2: Ownership of files and folders first.
 

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.

Tagging

‘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….

Functionality

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:

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community 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? No No Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into your personal files first? Yes No No
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? No 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) No Yes No


Folder_13

Adding files is one thing, moving them around between folders another!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Can files uploaded as personal files be moved between folders? Yes No No
Can community files be moved between folders? No No Yes
Can CCM files be moved between folders? No 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 No

 

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?

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
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 No No
Are the folders available in the mobile app? (iOS tested) Yes Yes ? (I couldn’t test this with my setup)
Is the folder (and files within it) visible in the IBM Connections plugin for Windows Explorer? Yes 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 No

 

Additional features:

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!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Does the folder allow for subscribing to updates on the folder? (updates show up in the activity stream) No No Yes
Does the folder offer an RSS feed? Yes Yes Yes
Does the folder allow for bulk download of folder contents (e.g. all files in one ZIP file?) Yes No Yes

Folder_12

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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.

8 comments

  1. luis benitez

    Femke, do you find customers using all capabilities at the same time ? We offer the options and flexibility and you can turn things off if you don’t need them. For example, if you have CCM, you may want to turn off Community Files and/or Personal Files. Let me know.

    • Femke Goedhart (@FemkeGoedhart)

      You raise a valid question Luis. I think a lot of customers right now are exploring what to do. Deactivating community files is certainly an option but what happens to all the data already in communities then, do you simply loose that or do you have to migrate that into CCM Libraries? And if so: how? And also… you can’t use shared folders in that case. The companies I know that are implementing CCM or considering it are mostly on the fence about it. Especially as there are other options you lose in that case too. Like the option to export to a zip or the option to follow a folder and the integration with the Office & desktop plugins (although I’m sure that will be implemented soon!). It’s not an easy question for a lot of customers.

        • Estibaliz

          It would be great to have Files application disabled. Unfortunately we find it useful provided the Windows plugin does not allow to move documents from Outlook directly to a CCM library, just to Files, and not even Files folders.
          It would be great to have available this functionality . We are working with Connections 5.0 at the moment.

          • Femke Goedhart

            Hi Estibaliz. I agree that that would be a great addition to the libraries/IBM Connections. Unfortunately the connectors are still not completely there when it comes to the libraries

          • Femke Goedhart

            …and my earlier comments are caught up by the release of new connectors. I’ve just posted another blog about the latest version of the connectors that allow better integration with the libraries. On testing it with Outlook though I still see some limitations. Estibaliz if you contact me (mail) I might have an alternative for you though.

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