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The shop I work in is pretty laid-back. We're on a documentation kick, only because historically we've been very bad with it. We do a lot of our brainstorming in face-to-face meetings, and also do a lot of communication via IM in addition to email.

While I'm usually pretty good about documentation and keeping copious lab notes, I just finished a build of a host and spent hours searching through IMs, emails, files on my workstation, etc. to pull out anything I missed in my lab notes, which formed a large amount of the basis for the internal documentation.

Does anyone have any thoughts on, aside from manually saving things to a project directory, managing various data sources (especially email and IM) and tracking them on project basis? Ideally, I'd like an easy way to put copies of emails, IM logs, etc. into a project-specific directory on my workstation and then just have a cron job that syncs that up with a shared folder. This isn't really a candidate for anything more advanced, as the bulk of the data will be copies of configs, code, etc.

Here are the big restrictions:

  1. Email is via a centralized Zimbra install, so nothing can happen server-side.
  2. My workstation is Linux.

Aside from writing Pidgin and Thunderbird plugins that let me tag chats and emails as belonging to a project, and then copy them to the appropriate place... any thoughts? Suggestions?

Thanks, Jason

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If you come up with a Good solution to this, you should patent and sell it; I think this is something all organizations struggle with. ;) – Coding Gorilla Aug 20 '10 at 14:13
We use a wiki currently. The whole point of what I'm looking for is something that integrates with my email and IM clients and, at the most, requires me to type in a few tags (in the client) and then "puts the information where it should be". – Jason Antman Sep 14 '10 at 15:07

I haven't seen anything like what you are looking for. We have an internal wiki for system documentation. Anytime we do something new, or different, we update the wiki. I have tried to save email threads and im logs to document stuff, but I find it better to extract the core information in the threads into a wiki page. It helps cut the noise, and usually ends up creating a more useful piece of documentation. It does take time up front. But, you will spend the same amount of time searching through IMs and emails over time.

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I would say that a Wiki or a CMS would be the best options for what you seem to want to do. I'd recommend using a Wiki if your people will be willing to copy/transcribe into a document, the CMS if they would prefer to just 'place' their pieces of info record.

There are a number of "No-SQL" database solutions that are coming out that seem to want to solve this problem. CouchDB is one example that I can come up with off the top of my head. (Typing "couchdb vs" in your favorite search engine and seeing what the auto-complete comes up can give you others.)

On a side note, It will be hard to get people to use it. It sounds like there is an attempt to change the culture of the company to be more disciplined. There will be friction no matter what. With that said, it's much preferable to get something in place even if it isn't perfect and start using it rather than hold committees on what GRAND IDEAL SOLUTION they want to persue. (Besides, who would be documenting those meetings?!)


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