Thursday, February 28, 2008

Google Sites, MS SharePoint...Creating Communities

Google recently announced a new product, called Google Sites. The basic idea is that it lets you gather and share data (e.g., Google Apps documents, files, free-form wiki-style pages) pertaining to a particular purpose (e.g., business, team, project). Inevitably, Sites is being compared to Microsoft SharePoint, which addresses a similar need.

What's fascinating to me about Sites and SharePoint are how they relate to my research on community information management. Briefly, a community has a shared topic or purpose on which they have data, such as web sites, mailing lists, and documents. This data is often unstructured. I research systems that process this unstructured community data to extract structured information about entities and relationships, then provide structured services beyond keyword search (e.g., querying, browsing, monitoring). I've built a very alpha prototype system, DBLife, for the database research community, and also published some papers on the topic.

How Sites and SharePoint relate is very exciting: they build communities. Currently, my research helps builders select web pages and other data sources. However, by integrating with a Microsoft SharePoint installation or a Google Site, the data is already there. And the benefits to users is palpable. Instead of only keyword search, users would have powerful structured access methods, making the application much more useful. Truly, it'd be very exciting to see something like that happen.

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