Tuesday, November 16, 2010

HyLighter- Advanced Document Collaboration

This is a cross-post from my blog on the Military Social Networking system milBook

HyLighter (www.hylighter.com) is a new technology that has some unique and very useful functionality.This blog post will give an overview of the system and some of potential use cases. This is not a commercial endorsement for Hylighter, but I will use their promotional material in different places throughout this post. 

Today, it is common to have documents that require input from 10, 20, 30 or more contributors. The most common practice for managing document reviews for large groups is for the owner of the document to send out emails with attachments to contributors. Each contributor makes changes and adds comments, usually with track changes, and then emails the file back to the owner. The owner has the time-consuming and frustrating task of maintaining version control and reconciling all the changes manually. Once complete, the owner recycles the draft for another round of reviews.

HyLighter is an easy to learn web annotation and hypermedia system for collaborative analysis and review of documents. Supported file types include HTML, Word and, soon, images, PowerPoint, PDF, and Excel. In general, Web annotation systems enable users to add, modify or remove information from a Web resource without modifying the resource itself. The information can be thought of as a layer of annotation displayed on top of the existing resource. Depending on how the owner of the resource configures permissions, users who share the same annotation system can see all or parts of the annotation layer.

The name, HyLighter, is a combination of the terms hypermedia + highlighter (i.e., a felt-tip pen which is used to draw attention to sections of documents by marking them with a vivid, translucent color). Hypermedia refers to graphics, audio, video, and text that are intertwined through hyperlinks. A user following hyperlinks is said to navigate or browse the hypermedia. The most familiar example of a hypermedia system today is the World Wide Web which is a system of interlinked hypermedia documents contained on the Internet.

What is unique about HyLighter as a Web annotation and hypermedia system is that it enables almost any number of reviewers to engage in threaded discussions tied to selected locations or fragments within a document in an organized and efficient manner. It also enables users to copy a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for any annotation (i.e., a highlighted section of a document and associated commentary and other metadata) to a clipboard in order to (a) send or post a link to a selected annotation to one or more individuals through various applications for exchanging information over the Internet (e.g., chat, instant messaging, microblogging, and email) and (b) create a link from a selected annotation to one or more annotations within the same document or a different document either on the same machine or different machine(s).

In addition to creating a bridge between social networking applications and specific locations within various file types, HyLighter has public APIs available for integrating with content management systems and other types of applications. For example, HyLighter offers a plugin for SharePoint that enables a user to push a document from a SharePoint library to a browser with HyLighter installed. Once the review activity is completed, HyLighter provides various mechanisms for analysis of input and editing in Word or other native application and checking the document back into the SharePoint library for maintaining version history.

HyLighter is straightforward to use. Simply import the document into the system (or use something like the SharePoint plugin shown above), access the document using a browser with the proper plugin, and begin editing or making comments. For example:

The key to the technology is the use of XML and XHTML that allows for the formation of the annotation layer mentioned above. There are also many other ways that the XML in HyLighter can be leveraged, such as metadata, and other integrations with XML-based technologies. While the use of HyLighter and Google Wave had been discussed (and Wave is mentioned in the HyLighter literature) it has not been actively pursued. 

HyLighter solves three major challenges that are relevant to expertise location and knowledge mining that are not adequately addressed by any other available technology. The challenges:

- How can large groups of reviewers (that is, 5-50 or more) engage in collaborative discussions tied to specific sections of a document or source in an organized and efficient manner?

- How can the potential of collective intelligence or crowd sourcing be harnessed to increase the value of existing content?

- How can knowledge workers collaboratively link related ideas and objects together or “connect the dots” across increasingly large repositories of unstructured data in order to make associations, discover patterns, and create new knowledge and innovations?

Here are some potential use cases for HyLighter:

- Policy Creation: Most organizations have a need to create policy documents, especially in Government. There is usually a review and approval process when writing policy, in addition to multiple authors of the content. HyLighter would allow for many authors and reviewers, and it automatically creates an audit trail for changes on the document.

- Technical Writing: This seems a logical use for the system. Often technical writing requires peer review or input from multiple experts, and HyLighter would allow for these individuals to easily review and/or provide input on specific parts of a document.

- Proposal Management: Writing proposals is another natural use case for HyLighter. Collective authoring and review is generally a requirement when writing proposals. Having different authors and reviewers for each section of the proposal is much easier to manage with HyLighter. 

- Training: HyLighter can be used for both training development (collaborative creation of content and programs of instruction) and also as part of the learning experience where learners can interact with instructors on collaborative online documents.

- Enhance capabilities of wikis and blogs: Sometimes on wikis and blogs there is content that lends itself to a collaborative effort. Placing links on the original site to a HyLighter document allows for the development of the content in a more organized fashion than most Social Media systems.

- Support online communities of learners and practitioners: Online social networks around specific areas of interest can benefit from HyLighter in that they can use the system to collaboratively create content to enhance the building of knowledge on the specific topics involved.

There are trial instances of HyLighter accessible from their website, and there is also a military-focused test instance as well. The technology is sophisticated and the best way to understand it is to give it a try.

Again, this does not constitute a commercial endorsement of this product, and is strictly the opinion of the author. Please post your questions or comments below, and thanks for reading.

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