From Web artifacts to living repositories

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For all of the Web's advancements, the content it houses is still a snapshot in time. For the most part, these written words, images and video are no different than messages carved in stone.

Once posted, they serve as a historical record of the past, and frequently searchers need to piece together multiple Web artifacts to understand the correlation between people, places and time.

The collaborative aspect of wikis, such as Wikipedia, is a step forward. In addition to allowing anyone to update and change content, the ability to view changes made in the past acknowledges the importance of time. Yet, wikis are primarily limited to the written word, which is great for search visibility, but not so great for people who need to understand more complex relationships. The good news is that two firms, Cogmap and TimeRime.com, are taking advantage of collaborative functionality to do just that.

Cogmap's mission is quite simple: “Cogmap is an organization chart wiki that lets you see, edit and create organization charts for companies online.” The Web site stresses, “We are a Web site, not a business. Businesses have business models. Web sites are just good ideas.”

And a good idea indeed. Despite advances in people search, relationships are still rarely graphed. Salespeople might have access to any number of databases, but how frequently is reporting structure explicitly stated? Prospective clients, talent and analysts sizing up a firm must start with the static “management” section of the corporate Web site and then comb through LinkedIn to round out the edges. And as sad as it sounds, there are more than a few firms that do not publish their organization chart to their own employees.

To solve this problem, Cogmap developed a Web application that allows anyone to create or modify a public organization chart. Firms also can opt to publish their own chart in a private fashion, limiting modifications to authorized users. Cogmap's blog admits hesitation in launching this feature, noting that there “is very little malicious map editing here at Cogmap and many good contributions to maps every day. Maintaining access control lists can be burdensome and we do worry that charts will become stale.” One proposed idea is to require that private organization charts be updated at least once per year, or risk being automatically reverted to a public map.

TimeRime is to timelines what Cogmap is to the organization chart. Founded in March 2008 as a spin-off of Dutch Web development firm Hoppinger.com, “TimeRime.com is an online community that allows people to create, compare and upload information by creating timelines, and to view information uploaded by others.” The site is decidedly multiformat — a timeline can include music and videos along with text, and creativity is encouraged. Timeline topics range from scientific discoveries, to presidential candidates to a personal timeline.

Unlike Cogmap, TimeRime is a Web application and a business solution. Not only can its timelines be embedded on other sites, but apparently schools have taken a great interest in the site. As a result, the firm is working on an educational version so that “Students can work alone or in groups, and teachers can review and monitor the timelines of the students. On school.TimeRime.com, all students will be able to save their work for the entire period they stay at that school,” according to TimeRime's blog.

While both Cogmap and TimeRime.com are early in their game plans, the thinking clearly reflects a new way of thinking about content and, therefore, search.

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