Last week on DM Radio we had a great time talking about collaboration and the huge “SharePoint Effect,” that has arisen from Microsoft’s millions of workspace and document sharing users.

Talk about coming full circle. All of today’s talk about enabling the extended enterprise and pervasive BI dragged me back seven or eight years to when intranets and enterprise portals were going to be the next big thing.

Back in those days we had heavyweights like IBM WebSphere, used-to-be heavyweights like BEA Systems (Oracle), can’t miss vendors including Plumtree, Vignette, Epicentric and a bunch of other Web interface and document management folks who all hoped to provide the structure for the future of the aligned enterprise.

Where the old top-down portal mission was about pushing content, it often wound up looking like an internal marketing program. It turns out Microsoft had the right idea with a simple way to network and share, even though their soft-pedaled message of ground-up collaboration upset a lot of people at the time because it was too easy and uncontrolled.

Okay, the control thing caused a few problems of its own. But for the first time in a while, a vendor had built something new and people came – by the millions. As Tony Byrne of CMSWatch said on our show, “SharePoint happens.” And with SharePoint happening, a glut of workspaces and shared content has built up in the very organizations that make the most of the tool. I’m not minimizing other collaboration tools that may well add great value, but SharePoint has become popular enough to spawn a whole ecosystem of partner applications to accessorize and better track what has been created.

Making sense of the greater record of all that content is a different matter, and so on our show Tony shared the idea of a metadata editor or “metator,” as a kind of person we might be looking for as we go about working together.

 “One area of collaboration deals with creating team spaces, but another is about the disposition of all the material that’s created,” Tony said. “This idea of a metator is a critical role people already play without it being called something. They oversee the whole context and they organize, they understand what’s valuable and should be kept and what’s not.”

Tony likes to use the metator term these days but he didn't originate it. He credits the idea to author and professor Bob Boiko at the University of Washington (who now offers "metatorial services"), and you should look at Tony’s own recap to learn more about Boiko’s work.

Project management software can deal with some of the challenges of encapsulated work, but collaboration calls for a lot of savvy and nuance. It's much more human than a bunch of file folders. As Tony says, the disposition of a workspace is something people don’t often talk about but it can be very important. When the project ends, what do you do with the content? Do you just delete it, does e-discovery even allow you to delete content? Does that stuff just sit there clogging search results?

What I'm afraid of is, a lot of workspace content probably looks a lot like my desktop with gigs of content all in there somewhere if I look for it long enough but completely mismanaged from a file perspective. “Part and parcel of a governance plan is making sure you have the human resources to manage all this information," Tony says, " and people talk about the importance of an information gardener or steward. I like the term metador, and some people are naturally called to this kind of thinking.”

FInding someone who hears that calling would suit me just fine, though I'm not going to get any help with my desktop. But for collaborative work settings, maybe it's time to think about content hubs and repositories. Like a data steward, you may be able to identify the metator in your midst and give that person a role and value beyond what they are doing already.

(Followup column available here. -ed)

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