Wiki of the Month October 2011
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The nature of the work performed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) fosters an environment that tends toward the forming of compartmentalized project groups who may interact little with other employees/groups. The internal CSA Central site was created to help address this issue by fostering better networking and information sharing between the various groups and individuals that comprise the Computational & Statistical Analytics (CSA) division at PNNL. Within the CSA division at PNNL there are six groups totaling approximately 265 employees. These employees are comprised primarily of Scientists, Engineers, Researchers, Developers, Specialists, Managers, Administrators, and Interns. Nearly two-thirds of these division employees are now active on the CSA Central site to varying degrees.
Our goal was to create an easy to use tool that the various scientists, researchers, developers, etc. could use to find and contribute information about their projects, products, capabilities, tools, publications, equipment, facilities, and individual skills. We also added some basic social profiles of division employees to help everyone get to know each other a little better and venture out of their "circle of comfort". A new wiki skin was developed for this site mimicking the style used on other internal PNNL websites to keep navigation elements consistent across all sites and maintain the look and feel of the internal websites with which users are already accustomed.
Many times our projects have some overlap in scope, and often work done, or information learned or technologies developed for one project could benefit another. Our motivation is to help eliminate redundant efforts, match existing capabilities/technologies with projects that might benefit from them, and help project managers identify employees possessing the skills they need to complete their project tasks.
Most of our content pages rely on Semantic Forms and templates to create/edit. This allows for easy content page creation, consistency of style across all created wiki pages, and automatic population of semantic properties. These created pages are most frequently displayed in a faceted list using exhibit allowing users to "drill-down" to quickly find results they are interested in seeing. Some typical pages on our site include:
- Expertise Finder:
- Faceted list of employees, their contact information, and their various skills. Employees fill in a form to generate their social profile page, and in that form is a field to enter skills. This field auto-completes based on previous skill entries, and is comma delimited to allow multiple skills to be entered. The expertise finder allows a manager to find all division employees who have a desired skill such as python programming, web development, project management, etc. and whether those employees have available time to take on new work. (see image)
- Facilities Finder:
- Another faceted page allowing users to drill-down to find available facilities, with characteristics or amenities they need, whether they are booked, and then take a 360 degree virtual tour of the room using embedded multimedia views.
- Division calendar showing various division events such as guest speakers, employee given "brown bag" lunch time presentations, etc. Events are entered using an "Add Event" Semantic Form.
- Projects Page:
- Faceted list showing projects, the staff working on that project, start/end dates, scope, background, issues, risks, project lead, contact information, associated files, and lessons learned.
- Employee Profiles:
- Each employee has an auto-generated profile page that displays their contact information, location, personal calendar, list of authored publications, group, and manager. They can optionally edit this page (via Semantic Form) to add their skills list, current projects they work on, some personal information (birthday, hometown, etc.), and even "friend" other employees.
- Special Interest Groups:
- Sub-pages for groups with interest in areas such as analytical gaming, computational linguistics, knowledge representation, etc. Pages include interest description, group members, contact information, uploaded files, and links to their respective forum discussion areas.
- Brown Bag Videos:
- Employees are encouraged to give lunch time lectures (brown bags) on topics of their interest, emerging technologies, or their areas of expertise. These presentations are recorded on video and made available via the wiki for those who were unable to attend in person. Videos are embedded and playable within the wiki page. (see image)
Semantic MediaWiki was selected because it allows for the storage of a wide variety of information in various formats and facilitates the search and display of that information in a simple to use website. SMW also allows easy querying and display of entered information in a variety of display methods (SRF,Maps,Exhibit, and others). The CSA Central site style and navigation were immediately familiar to our user base, as we developed a new wiki skin similar to our existing internal websites, and our extensive use of semantic forms allow easy user edits and content creation with no knowledge of wiki markup syntax. Other extensions in use include Semantic Maps, Semantic Results Formats, Semantic Internal Objects, Semantic Compound Queries, ArrayExtension, Header Tabs, Maps, Parser Functions, Widgets, HaloACL, CKeditor, ImageMap, LDAP Authentication Plug-in, and Google Chart.
Starting our SMW work with some MediaWiki background, the setup of a Semantic MediaWiki site was not at all difficult. We went through a few changes in our property usage since the initial setup, but have a system that seems to work well for us in place now. There is typically about a day of learning curve associated with figuring out how to set up Semantic Forms, templates, properties, and categories and get them to operate properly, but overall a reasonably painless experience.
The CSA Central site uses the Knowledge Encapsulation Framework (KEF) which combines a Semantic MediaWiki, a Wordpress Blog, and a PHPBB Forum to form a suite of intertwined tools offering a repository for information, a podium for group announcements, and an area to discuss different division topics. Each portion of the site uses an identically styled skin/theme/style, and LDAP authentication is used across the entire mash-up allowing a seamless transition from one portion of the site to another.
The KEF team has developed a handful of utility extensions for the CSA Central site to do things like:
- Parse and return values from the users LDAP string to pre-populate their user profile page values
- Retrieve and insert a list of user or group publications from PNNL’s central repository for published works
- Display an iFrame to map the location of a given users workspace using our internal campus mapping tool
The KEF mash-up was created by a team at PNNL, and the review process required before we can release any of our work to the community is underway. We have begun the set up of an external website running KEF as a demo, and to post information about this product (http://kef.pnnl.gov). Any information about a release of the KEF framework will be posted on this site.
The CSA Central sidebar incorporates various templates defining administrative portions of the navigation menu. These templates have access restrictions placed on them so that only users with sufficient permissions may view them. The result is that the sidebar menu displays a different set of options for admin users than for the standard wiki user, hiding links leading to pages to which a standard wiki user doesn't have access. First time visitors to the site have standard user accounts automatically created using LDAP authentication, so they are automatically presented with an appropriate set of links in the sidebar navigation menu.