Distributed KMS: KARL
KARL is an open source, web-based product for collaboration, organizational intranets and knowledge management. Developed by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), it was first introduced to the market in 2008, and is used by many international organizations, such as Oxfam GB, and OSF.
Six Feet Up has been actively working on enhancing KARL's featureset and providing KARL customization services for our clients.
KARL was developed based on the following vision:
- A simple set of well-integrated tools
- Accessibility and usability for everyone in a distributed organization
- Capability to collaborate securely with individuals who are external to an organization
- Enterprise-level quality through a solid architectural vision, stringent testing, agile planning, and a strong focus on performance
In use since 2006, KARL now boasts an impressive list of features, as detailed below. In addition, Six Feet Up is actively working on a series of KARL enhancements spurred by customers' requests.
KARL offers a unique way to organize content via a matrix composed of horizontal "online office spaces" and vertical topic-based "communities".
In KARL, the key players for a project, topic or physical location are organized into a virtual organization, or "community", which provide a central location to post and retrieve information.
KARL communities are similar to social network communities with tools for blogging, wiki, shared calendar and file management. One of the greatest benefits of KARL communities is that moderators can invite individuals from outside of the organization to join. KARL communities can include partners, vendors, subject matter experts and anyone with whom there is collaboration on a project.
There is no limit to the number of communities an organization can create. Someone may be a member of as many communities as needed. For example, a user may be a member of a community that includes all employees, and be a member of a community dedicated to a project they are involved in. Moderators determine who is assigned to which communities.
Within a community, users can view the list of participating members. Members can upload their own pictures, edit their profiles and see the communities and community content to which they have access.
Online Office Spaces
In addition to communities, KARL introduces the concept of "offices", which allows users to share and view information related to a specific office. For example, an organization may have physical locations at multiple sites, like New York City, London and Johannesburg. Each of these sites can have their own KARL online office space (sometimes used as a collaborative intranet).
The KARL office landing page typically consists of office-specific navigation links in the left column, office-specific content in the right column, and organization-wide content in the center. This setup allows for organization-wide communication, as well as customized communication inside each office.
These online office spaces can have their own intranet-like landing page views, and provide a dedicated space for files, forums (a feature specific to office spaces), and events. They can also display content from corporate or other locations via RSS feeds.
Fully Integrated Blog
Each KARL community has access to a shared blog, which serves as a place for users to post updates, new ideas and other collaborative information. A checkbox allows blog authors to automatically email the content of the post to the community members, and logged-in users can add comments under each blog post. KARL members also have the ability to post blog content via email.
Blogs are fully integrated in the KARL software and don't require a custom access or editing interface. Blog posts are indexed in a manner consistent with the other components of KARL so that locating information is quick and easy.
Layered Group Calendar
Each KARL community has its own shared calendar so that its users can easily manage events pertaining to that specific community. The KARL calendar has convenient daily, weekly, monthly and list views.
Furthermore, each KARL community supports the organization of events in categories. Moderators have the option to select which categories to display in a layered view, including categories of events that belong to other communities. The KARL layered group calendar was designed to be very simple to use and proves to be extremely powerful when managing events across offices and/or distributed teams.
Rich Text Wiki
Wikis have become a popular tool for collaborative work across user groups as they allow for fast sharing and editing of knowledge across a community.
In KARL, each community is given its own wiki where members can quickly and easily add and edit pages by using the rich text editor central to KARL. Wiki pages support images, embedded objects such as Google gadgets, and links to community files. A checkbox allows wiki authors to automatically email the content of the wiki page to the community members.
Secure File Sharing
For organizations whose processes rely on a large number of documents, KARL provides the capability to securely share and store documents, pictures, and various media in a repository inside each community.
Files can be tagged with custom keywords and organized in an unlimited hierarchy of folders for ease of browsing. Because KARL supports full text indexing, all files are easily searchable and quickly retrieved.
The KARL file storage feature is critical for organizations where members are not in the same physical location as it provides for an efficient way of sharing documents as well as an effective backup system.
KARL incorporates tagging at every level of the application. Community members can tag content, files, blog posts, wiki pages with their own custom keywords and allow others to browse by those keywords.
At the community level, a tag listing provides members with a quick and granular access to tagged content inside a specific group. At a global level, KARL provides a global tag cloud for a quick access to content tagged across all communities. At any level, clicking a tag automatically assembles and presents a list of content tagged with the specific keyword as well as a list of "related tags" providing suggestions for possibly related content.
Members often report that the KARL tagging features enhance collaboration by allowing them to "discover" other subject matter experts and affordably "surface" key documents in other communities.
Granular Access Control
Out of the box, KARL provides precise control over permissions for each KARL user, whether that person is an employee or member of an organization ("staff") or an outside partner ("affiliate").
Staff members have access to all public communities, and to any private communities to which they have been invited. They see all of the profiles under the 'People" tab and have access to the office spaces.
Affiliates can only see communities (public or private) that they have been invited to join. They will not see office pages dedicated to content pertaining to specific office locations.
Strong Email Integration
Each organization has its own culture regarding email. Some organizations try to limit the use of email, while others rely on it heavily. KARL is one of the few systems out there that allows its users to tailor their email usage to their organization's expectations. Each time someone adds an item to any component, that user is given the option to send an email notification to the community by simply clicking a checkbox.
In KARL, searching is fast, simple and relevant. When users look up a term, all KARL content, including files, is queried as the application supports full text indexing out of the box. KARL automatically presents search results in the form of a "live search", or a drop-down menu listing top relevant results organized by categories, such as people, posts or files.
Users can search across the entire application, or just query a specific community. For security reasons, KARL will only present results a user has permission to see. If a user is in one of his/her communities and initiates a search, the search will return results from every component of every community s/he is a part of, but none of which s/he is not.
The Feeds feature provides a real-time list of updates on KARL that refreshes automatically every 30 seconds.
As members add new content or edit existing content, the feeds provide a running view of the changes being made across an entire KARL instance.
Security is built in the feeds, as with all components in KARL, so that members only see content they have permission to access in their view of the feeds.
KARL was created to provide well-integrated tools for complex organizations and projects. KARL allows collaboration across an organization and across the globe while maintaining security through user authentication and easy-to-manage permissions for KARL communities.
KARL was produced by the Open Society Foundations who has made the code open source for use by the larger open source community. Six Feet Up provides hosting services and support for the Open Society Foundations, as well as others distributed organizations.
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