Two seemingly unrelated articles have led me to the topic for this blog entry. First off, Discover Magazine introduced a story on Twitter titled: “Fake Surgery Eases Spinal Pain as Well as the Real Thing”. A few minutes later, an Information Week newsletter headline story: “E-Book Readers Lack Appeal” revealed poll results that show readers overwhelmingly prefer the feel of a real book.
The Information Week article comes as no surprise and anyone involved with ECM would guess that users overwhelmingly prefer the feel of paper documents. The fact that electronic documents are easier to find, cheaper to store and available across myriad locations doesn’t always influence usage – people are still prone to press the print button if they have to read the document. Still, I and many of my ECM peers could agree to let people read from paper, as long as we were only storing the electronic copy and we weren’t storing multiple copies. Unfortunately, paper copies and duplicate electronic copies abound. In fact, somewhere, right now, someone is scanning a paper document that originated in a digital store (see Welcome Digital).
This is where the Discovery Magazine article offers hope; perhaps we can have placebo documents. That may sound absurd but if we only consider the storage aspect, it may not be.
Duplicate documents exist because people want easy access to the content and because people want documents proximate to the places they work. A quick review of our network shares finds copies of old Annual Reports in folders owned by every contributing author and several “consumers”. Pleasantly, there are fewer copies of recent Annual Reports, where the development was managed in SharePoint. A SharePoint work area brought the contributing authors to a single location during development. The key to beating duplication is in linking to this location from every place people need to read the Annual Report.
Of course, we all know the problem with links is that they break over time. This is where SharePoint can really come to the rescue. Filtered lists and Data View Web Parts (DVWP) can provide dynamic views of the content of Document Libraries and provide the links to access those documents. If we include a good description column in the library, a Data View Web Part can display a list of “Related Documents” or “Documents Of Interest” on any page, all pointing to a single copy. If a document is removed from that library, the link will disappear automatically. If we do a good job of tagging documents, DVWP can serve as mini card catalogs anywhere we need them.
If there was only one copy of a document in SharePoint, I wouldn’t care if people printed it in order to read it – unless they also scan it back in to email it later.