So I figured I’d throw my two cents in on the topic of documents and whether or not we’re going to see them sail off into the sunset. So far the gauntlets have been thrown down by SharePoint Welterweights Joel Oleson and Spence Harbar.
I’d have to disagree with the original thesis, I don’t think that documents are on their way out. I do however think that the way that information is generated is changing – documents however will still be around for portability and as a storage container for the objects for which they consist of.
I’m pretty certain that we’re going to continue to have separate, partitioned documents stored as files that consist of images, information and other forms of media on a particular topic. This container will be saved as a document with a particular format dependent on what the file’s purpose is (presentation, image, technical specification, memorandum, etc.) primarily for portability and to separate the content (perhaps as a matter of record).
While it might seem that Office Online will eventually open up an online Word editor and Google Docs continues to bolster their online editor, both of these systems require an account within the identity management store (either Microsoft or Google) to access the documents.
Lack of identity federation alone will be part of the reason that documents continue to persist. Many large organizations are struggling to collapse their domains and identity stores to a single system, federation is probably the last thing on their mind. Why is Federation of identity important? Merely for the reason that if you are not able to access the data the you seek in a Wiki page on someone else’s system, more than likely you’ll request the information be sent in a document through a means such as e-mail.
Furthermore without a specified document type, how will different applications be able to differentiate their files from any other? Perhaps the applications will be intelligent enough to read through definition files and figure out which files are editable by their schema. This in itself would be quite processor intensive for the document browser to read through all definition files – it becomes even more difficult in a client server environment over a WAN.
Additionally, as Spence mentions over in his blog entry, you’re going to have to have some way of versions maintained – Wiki’s can’t really do that for something like a Visio diagram or a mindmap, can they? Not quite – or at least not yet. Last I checked each version of a Word document, even in the new DOCX format on SharePoint requried a complete copy be stored in the version history, not just the delta.
I agree that it would be more helpful to have Wiki’s for document collaboration, but this information eventually needs to be published to some format that can be sent to another party. However for Wiki’s to be useful for that document collaboration, hopefully they’ll become more flexible and have greater support for things such as MindMaps, Technical Diagrams and Specifications, and images.
Additionally, consider this – without a document to pass along to another party, how am I going to open up my portal and Wiki system to the world? How am I going to maintain a source as authoritative? If I publish my document out in a format that can have an iFilter reach into it, then it can be parsed by a search engine. Additionally, it can have some sense of non-repudiation and authenticity if it’s signed with a digital certificate.
Bottom line of my rambling, I don’t think it’s the end of documents anytime soon. I do think that they’re going to be re-engineered a bit more to be more flexible. Pretty cool what happens when you open up a docx or pptx using WinZip to see it’s text based innards. 🙂