Thoughts on Systems

Emil Sit

Jan 10, 2009 - 2 minute read - Technology agpl hosting social networks tools web2.0

Web tools I wish I had at work

Most companies keep resources associated with on-going but as-yet-unreleased projects hidden from public view. Working at a big company has made me realize that many tools for organizing various bits of data, that I took almost for granted as a grad student, are not available inside the firewall. Here are just a few:

  • delicious, for social information management;
  • iGoogle, to allow per-user customizable homepages, organizing info from other services;
  • Google Reader, a web-based RSS reader (to aggregate internal RSS feeds);
  • Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter, to develop internal/professional social networks, gaining awareness into what others in the company are working on and what their skills might be;
  • QuickTopic, to create quick impromptu archived discussions;
  • GMane, a central archive of all internal mailing lists, searchable, linkable, easy to use;
  • GitHub, high quality, self-service hosting for source code;
  • SlideShare/Scribd et al., for document sharing (instead of mailing around incompatible PPTX and DOCX files) and management.

Some of these services like Yammer or GitHub that allow you to host functionality externally. However, how much do you trust them with your company’s secrets? Can you convince corporate IT to go along with this? If you can’t review the source code, how do you know if it isn’t vulnerable to trivial password guessing attacks?

Open-source clones exist for many of these services but most are not at the level of polish that one can expect from the public services. Still, this can work well, for example with laconica or ReviewBoard.

Similarly, commercial alternatives exist but set a higher bar for internal deployment because money must be allocated to deploy them (in addition to people). On the plus side, commercial alternatives (e.g., ClearSpace) have support. On the minus side, commercial alternatives are generally less amenable to you hacking on the source for your own purposes.

In any event, the space of open-source/commercial alternatives simply doesn’t cover the space of cool web tools that exist today. The AGPL—which copylefts software used to provide services over a network—can help in the future but its impact is still some years off. I hope in time, these tools like the ones I’ve highlighted here are made open-source or otherwise self-hostable because without them, some things at work are just a bit harder than I’d like them to be.