If you are looking for good ICT practice guides, or want to find out more about low-bandwidth collaboration tools, or see what CGIAR-wide applications are available to you, then ICT Infopoint is the place for you. ICT Infopoint provides CGIAR staff located at headquarters and in regional offices with a convenient one-stop location on CGX2.0, where they can find timely and up-to-date ICT information and links. If you need to speak to someone about your ICT problems, ICT Infopoint can also help by providing you with the contact information of all CGIAR Center Helpdesks. ICT Infopoint is open 24/7, so please drop by anytime!

This handy resource will be updated regularly with content from the ICT-KM Program and the Centers, as it becomes available. ICT Infopoint has also received input from several ICT support staff in small offices in Africa and India, enabling content to be developed that could potentially help them and local researchers improve the way they work and collaborate.

ICT Infopoint is a collaborative effort involving input from the ICT-KM Program’s Second Level Connectivity Project and the CGIAR Centers.  Formerly known as the ICT Briefcase, an output of the Second Level Connectivity Project led by Ian Moore (ILRI-ICRAF), this resource has been further refined in terms of design and content by Tania Jordan, ICT-KM Technical Coordinator, and Antonella Pastore, CGXchange Project Coordinator.  The change of name from ICT Briefcase to Infopoint was made to better reflect the present-day product.

Please come on by and check it out for yourself!

If you have any suggestions or comments about ICT Infopoint, please contact the CGXchange team at cgxchange@cgiar.org.

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Last week I blogged about the 1st Training Session at FAO and it was such a success that they repeated the training session on Wikis again yesterday for those people that didn’t get the chance to register last week.

Tania Jordan, Gauri Salokhe, Romolo Tassone

Tania Jordan, Gauri Salokhe, Romolo Tassone

Usually after the training sessions, Gauri Salokhe and Romolo Tassone from the FAO Web Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division, perform an “After Action Review” to the participants to see what they liked the most or least, and use this feedback to improve future sessions.

It seems that many participants liked the ‘hands-on’ session last week where they had the opportunity to ‘play’ around with the tools, but participants requested  they should have more time …in other words: ‘less talk and more play‘…of course, nothing better than doing-it-yourself!

So considering last weeks feedback, yesterday’s 2-hour session was organized as to give more time to the participants for the ‘hands-on’ session.

Steve Katz

Steve Katz

Steve Katz, Chief of the Knowledge Exchange Facilitation Branch at FAO, introduced the session by saying:

FAO is a multi-disciplinary environment and we organize events such as the Sharefair and training sessions like these to introduce new knowledge sharing methods, tools and approaches to help us work more horizontally in the organization…the challenge is to see how these can be applied in your work…

 

Romolo continued by giving the participants an introduction about what makes a Wiki a Wiki, and he explained: 

  • inline edit/save
  • easy and open access to history, versioning/differences information and the ability to role back
  • The most recent additions/modifications of articles can be monitored actively or passively (RSS, email, summary page) – to facilitate collaborative editing
  • Discussion tab
  • User management/permissions
  • approach that focuses on trust, accountability and transparency, rather than security/authority/ownership
  • Moderation/advocacy required. Sense of community and personal involvement of content
Gauri Salokhe

Gauri Salokhe

Gauri showed the example of the Knowledge Sharing toolkit (KS Toolkit), a long-term collaborative Wiki site using Wikispaces that assembles knowledge sharing tools and methods resources as a clear example of collaboration between CGIAR ICT-KM, FAO and most recenly from the KMforDev community.

Tania Jordan

Tania Jordan

This time, I showed them an example of a private collaborative team site under our CGXchange 2.0 implementation where more than 25 people from the different continents were actively collaborating to produce 7 Enterprise Security Good Practice documents on a Google Sites Wiki.

There were interesting questions like: ‘ How do you get people to start on a Wiki?’, What if I need to work only on one document? or How do I know if I need a Wiki’… Like any website, to get people started on a Wiki, you really need someone that is constantly ‘pushing’ people to provide their input, someone (or a group of people) that as Gauri put it: acts as a ‘Wiki gardener’, that encourages people to provide their ideas and content on the site. Once people start feeling confident on the tools and see the potential of what they’re working on, the Wiki starts taking a life of its’ own!

Remember that in some cases, people don’t really need a Wiki site, sometimes a simple online document can do what you need and I explain these differences further on this post: Useful tips for collaborative writing with Google Docs and Google Sites.

Of course towards the end of the session, the moment they’ve all been waiting for…the participants were paired up on the computers and had the opportunity to get their hands-on the Wiki…indeed this is the moment where they have lots of fun!

Once again, I congratulate and thank Gauri and Romolo for organizing this wonderful session…it’s very nice to see that there are always new things to learn from each other.

Gauri also wrote a blog post about this Wiki session.

Until the next time, I look forward to your comments…

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate as guest speaker to the first training session about Wikis at FAO and it was an enriching experience!

The 2-hour session was moderated by Gauri Salokhe and Romolo Tassone, both from the Web Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division at FAO.

These sessions at FAO are part of an ongoing series of workshops on the methods, tools and services that can facilitate knowledge sharing.  These trainings are offered weekly by the Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division (KCE), in collaboration with Staff Development Branch (AFHT).

The session was fully booked and it was interesting to see how more and more people that couldn’t register were arriving to see if, just by chance, they could get a seat to participate in the session. This shows there are a lot people interested in learning more about collaborative tools and how these can be applied to their work at FAO.

Initially the moderators introduced Wikis by showing one of the world’s most popular Wiki: Wikipedia. Actually at FAO, they have implemented MediaWiki, the software behind Wikipedia as their internal Wiki, but they also offer other Wiki tools depending on the users’ requirements.

Together with Gauri, we showed the example of the Knowledge Sharing toolkit (KS Toolkit), a collaborative wiki site using Wikispaces that assembles knowledge sharing tools and methods resources. The KS Tookit is an initiative of the ICT-KM’s Institutional Knowledge Sharing project and in collaboration with FAO and the KM4Dev community, it currently has approximately 120 people that contribute to keep this global public good growing.

I had the opportunity to show the Wikis we have implemented recently in the CGIAR. As part of the CGXchange project, we are currently offering Google Sites which is a Wiki that users can easily setup themselves and start collaborating quickly. Some of these Wikis are public or private. The private Wikis in the CGIAR are mostly being used for project/team collaboration and meeting sites. The public Wikis are shared with the world for viewing and only a few people with editing rights can maintain the content:

http://www.cgxchange.org (site that gathers tutorials and trainings of the collaboration tools available for the CGIAR staff)

http://alliance.cgxchange.org (the strategic framework of the new CGIAR is being shared through this public Wiki)

We also discussed about the Wikis that ‘die‘ because of the fact that people do not contribute. Of course…Wikis are just like any website, they need a moderator or at least a group people that are committed in keeping the content updated and encouraging others to contribute so they can be useful.

Towards the end of the session the participants had the opportunity to edit a Wiki that had been setup for the training using a free Wikispaces guest account. The participants had a lot of fun adding content, links, inserting videos and deleting what others had written!…thank goodness that Wikis have version history and you can easily go back and retrieve older versions! 🙂

You can find a summary of all the links to the Web pages that were viewed during the training session on this Delicious page: http://delicious.com/sharefair09/training_wiki

I would like to thank Gauri and Romolo for the invitation to participate as guest speaker for this session. I believe we learned a lot from each other and hope we continue partnering in these knowledge sharing sessions in the near future. 

I believe that we, in the ICT-KM program, are doing a lot of research about social media tools and have vast experience on these topics. Given the CGIAR’s dispersed locations, currently our main method to communicate our knowledge is using our blog, which is great, but many people still prefer hands-on training sessions than reading. In this respect, my take home message is that we should learn from our FAO colleagues and start organizing on-site or online training sessions as well, every now and then, to share our knowledge on social media tools for our colleagues in the CGIAR…

gtalk1

skype1

CGIAR staff frequently use online tools to communicate with colleagues and partners around the globe. Many of these tools have made a significant, positive impact on the way staff work by facilitating communication and information sharing.

Until recently, some CGIAR Centers used Microsoft’s Live Communications Server (LCS) version 2005, an internal instant messaging (IM) system that integrates other IM applications (MSN, AOL and Yahoo) using a single client. LCS wasn’t deployed widely in the CGIAR mainly because the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) conversations between Centers didn’t work properly. This was due to the different security levels and network environments across Centers, as well as some limitations with LCS itself.  In addition, the implementation of LCS incurred monthly costs for server maintenance and per-user licensing charges.

Consequently, the decision has been made to remove LCS from the CGIAR’s portfolio of services come September 2009 and explore alternatives.

As the Technical Coordinator of the ICT-KM program, I’ve been working with a group of CGIAR IT managers over the past few months to research possible cost-effective alternatives to replace LCS.  The objective is to find a tool (or set of tools) that:

  • doesn’t incur high licensing and server maintenance costs
  • has a user management that can be integrated with CGIAR Active Directory, which presently has over 8500 users
  • allows users to make calls to landlines and mobile phones at low rates given the high cost of communications between Centers and with CGIAR partners and to a much lesser extent within Centers

With these requirements in mind, we started exploring GTalk and Skype, both of which are applications in the cloud.

While a system-wide decision is yet to be made, I would like to share the information I’ve collected so far about these tools and present a comparison table.

Google Talk (GTalk) gtalk1

In mid 2008, the CGIAR tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools. The ICT-KM Program gathered the feedback from users and published it in the CGIAR Google Apps Case Study Report. Then, in January 2009, it was decided to implement Google Apps Education edition to replace the CGXchange BEA Aqualogics infrastructure and take advantage of the collaboration tools in the Google Apps package:  Docs, Sites, Calendar, Google Talk, etc.

GTalk Downloadble Client

GTalk Downloadble Client

Google Talk is a free web-based application for instant messaging and voice over internet protocol (VOIP), offered by Google Inc.

Instant messaging between the Google Talk servers and its clients uses an open protocol, XMPP, allowing users of other XMPP clients to communicate with Google Talk users.

GoogleTalk allows users to sync their “screenname,” so to speak, with their e-mail account so they are alerted when they receive new mail, thereby eliminating the need to frequently check their accounts.   email_alerts
The first beta version of the program was released on 24 August 2005. At first, it was only possible to use Google Talk via the Gmail interface, but now users can download  a program to keep in touch with contacts and that’s available for Windows systems only.
Although the Google Talk program has room for further improvement, it allows for a bit of flexibility that other IM programs don’t. For example, most other lite or express IM versions require the use of JavaScript and other scripts to run from the web.

One of the advantages of Google Talk is that you can access it either through your personal Gmail account or your Google Apps account (if you are in the CGIAR), making it easier to keep in touch with contacts.
GTalk in the mail page

It also works with any operating system through the web, whereas some other popular programs do not always allow users to sign in over the web depending on the type of computer and Internet connection used.

Google Talk also allows the Google Talk Gadget to be added to personal website or blogs simply by pasting some code in the site’s HTML.

Google Talk also allows the Google Talk Gadget to be added to personal website or blogs simply by pasting some code in the site’s HTML.
In summary, you can use Google Talk through the downloadable client, Gmail or the Google Talk Gadget. Please note that the features in these three approaches are not the same and this may create confusion. As such, it would be useful if Google could incorporate the same features in all the options they offer.

For more information about Google Talk, click here.

Skype

skype1, another popular VoIP software with IM functionality, is already more widely used than Google Talk in the CGIAR. Skype, which has been owned by eBay since 2005, is free to download and has more than 443 million users around the world as of March 2009  (according to EBay).

One of the main differences between Google Talk and Skype is that the latter allows users to make free PC-to-PC calls as well as low-cost long-distance or international phone calls to landlines and mobile phones over the Internet.

Skype uses a peer-to-peer protocol and offers voicemail, chat, videoconferencing and an expanding array of additional services. Skype is not a replacement for ordinary telephones and cannot be used for emergency calling.

Source: Skype

Source: Skype

While Skype was originally intended for personal communications, the service also offers significant appeal as a low-cost, long-distance service for businesses, particularly for companies that need to communicate internationally.

There are some 3rd-party Skype solutions for business such as  Skip2PBX and VoSky Exchange to name a few that offer the possibility of integrating Skype with their PBX systems. However, Skype has begun testing a connection to corporate VoIP systems (Skype For SIP for Business Users), something that enterprises have been asking for years and which is currently undergoing beta testing.

Although Skype is a great tool for making competitively priced calls to landlines and mobile phones, I feel it needs to improve its online presence indicator – sometimes, online users are shown as being offline when their status if set to online. I’ve also received some instant messages several days after they were sent. In short, the IM feature is not always so ‘instant’ after all.

For more information about Skype, click here

Comparison between Google Talk and Skype

See the Google Talk and Skype comparison table

Conclusions

In my opinion, Google Talk is more enterprise-oriented than Skype, has a good level of security, requires less bandwidth, collaborative features that work well with the implementation of Google Applications Education Edition (CGX 2.0), and integrates with our Active Directory through third-party tools, to name just a few advantages.

Skype, on the other hand, is an application with many interesting features that Google Talk doesn’t have at the moment, such as the ability to establish a conference call with up to five people at a time and the ability to make phone calls to mobiles and landlines worldwide at low rates. However, this software requires more bandwidth than Google Talk and it is blocked in some CGIAR Centers as a result.

In summary, there is no single tool that does it all. At the moment I use Google Talk mostly for work-related purposes since it’s directly linked with the Google Apps CGX 2.0 collaboration workspace and with external partners or friends that have Gmail accounts.

I mostly use Skype for personal communications or when I need to make international phone calls or send a text message.  I hope Google introduces a feature that will allow users to make phone calls to landlines and mobile phones at low-rates with Google Talk. Google is working on  Google Voice, the next version of Grand Central (presently in private beta), which will allow users to make international calls, conference calls and send text messages. However, it’s not known if Google Voice will be integrated with Google Talk. If that were to happen, we would have a real killer application at our disposal.

Keep a look out for the full report on the ‘Selection of a communication tool in the CGIAR’ – to be published soon!

Until the next time, the question still begs: GTalk, Skype or both?

Lately, we’ve been receiving many requests from people who would like to write documents collaboratively.

This is not the first time we write about this topic: Meena published a general overview of collaborative writing approaches, and Silvia Renn shared tips on writing proposals with Google Docs.

Having been involved in the Google Apps Case Study and currently in CGXchange 2.0, I’d like to share my experience with Google Docs and Google Sites since I’ve found these tools are helping me and the ICT-KM team improve the way we work.  In particular, I’m sharing tips for organizing comments and edits so that every collaborator feels comfortable with the tools and the collaborative writing process.

Enjoy and share your experience and feedback!

(more…)

Technology continues to change; the way we collaborate with others has changed; and the way the CGIAR conducts its business is currently undergoing radical change. With the present air of change that is permeating the entire System, it was inevitable that CGXchange would, sooner or later, have to answer the call for a portal that meets current needs. As such, CGXchange’s intranet concept has been exchanged, so to speak, for a dual-concept application that satisfies both the need for public content and the need for ‘private’ collaboration spaces.

Past and present in the CGXchange 2.0 logo

Last month, we introduced the new, improved CGXchange 2.0, a platform based on Google Apps that satisfies our current needs by facilitating online collaboration and exchange both inside and outside the CGIAR.

Why Google Apps?” you might ask.

Well, with a highly decentralized set up like that of the CGIAR, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solutions that simplify our work. So last year, we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools and were suitably impressed. You can read the results of our experiments in the CGIAR Google Apps report.

A few months later, during the first half of March 2009, a selected group of testers evaluated a beta version of the site. The summary report of the test results is just out on CGX 2.0: tried, tested and passed with flying colors! We have included our replies to the comments and questions from the test participants.

So what’s so new with CGX 2.0?, you might as well ask. In a nutshell:

  • Public content: the tutorials, guides, links to useful resources, outcomes of our tests are open to anyone who wants to learn how non-profit institutions such as the CGIAR are taking advantage of online tools for improving communication, sharing and collaboration.
  • Openness is our main driving principle: while CGIAR staff benefits from the availability of the Google Apps collaboration tools, then anyone with a Google account can be invited to collaborate and view the information CGIAR staff will create with Google Apps.
  • Freedom of choice is our other driving principle: we aim to inform you and show you the possibilities that the Web offers to share knowledge and collaborate more efficiently online. The available tools can be safely used for closed and/or geographically distributed groups. We can guide you through the tools available, but you will make the final decision as to what is best for you.
  • We walk the talk and share the lessons by doing our best to test the tools in our context and share the circumstances in which they proved to be suitable and useful and referring to more than two years’ experience with the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing projects.

What do I do now?, you might, again, ask.

You have a few options (and NOT necessarily in this sequence):

  1. Visit CGXchange 2.0
  2. Take a quick tour of the collaboration tools
  3. Request access to the Apps for yourself and your colleagues (if you’re CGIAR staff)
  4. Browse around the CGX 2.0 Newsfeeds Aggregator to experience keeping up-to-date with RSS feeds
  5. Sing along

google-apps
CGIAR centers are not new to innovation. With a highly decentralised set up, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solution that help us do the job best.
So last year we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools. We have gathered the results of our experiments in this CGIAR Google Apps report

What’s next? Well our new CGXchange is based on Google Apps…. stay tuned to see our new CGXchange launched!