What is the history of the Knowledge Base?

The UITS Support Center has been answering computing questions via email, telephone, and walk-in since the early 1980s. Even in those early days, constant change and repetitive answers were the modus operandi. These two conditions encouraged staff to maintain an official, correct source for frequently changing and frequently requested information. Consultants also needed a repository for results of difficult or lengthy research they had undertaken to resolve some problems.

KB1

The first online "Knowledge Base" (KB), established in about 1988, was a directory of files on a shared VMScluster account, known as the "M" directory (named for Marie Meyer, one of the originators). Consultants answering questions via email found it convenient to base their responses on these files rather than repeatedly writing the answer from scratch. Upon sending information to answer an original question, they also created a more general version of the answer to include in the M directory for reuse.

This directory quickly grew into over a hundred files, often with multiple versions. There were no standards for the format of the files, and answers were written, revised, and maintained ad hoc. In about 1989, Support Center staff attempted a more logical organization of these files in a VAX Notes conference, called the "Pat Answer Library", but because of the unwieldy character of VAX Notes, this never really caught on.

By 1990, the Support Center was determined to find software appropriate for storing, maintaining, and retrieving this Knowledge Base, and examined several text-oriented, LAN-based databases (LAN-based so that the files could be shared, yet independent of any central operating system). The staff settled on "IZE," a commercial product that ran only on DOS, a major limitation. Furthermore, budget constraints allowed only a site license for five concurrent users. Nonetheless, IZE served well for almost two years. It offered content-based outlining and keyword searches that made maintenance easy. The KB grew to several hundred files written by Support Center consultants or adapted from FAQs found elsewhere on the Internet.

Then came Gopher. In the early 1990s, a clever, ambitious young staffer, Scott Hutton, created a full-text searchable, world-accessible Gopher server that revolutionized the KB. Support Center staff stopped thinking of it as a tool for their own private use, and started orienting information for public use. Gopher allowed around-the-clock public access to the Support Center's FAQ repository.

The staff had been enchanted by Gopher for about six months when they first heard about the World Wide Web. Scott had the Knowledge Base on the web within a few months. Almost immediately, the Gopher version became an albatross. Scott wrote many hacks to make the Gopher version simulate the web (e.g., linking texts), but the team was, in effect, maintaining two copies of the Knowledge Base. The simplicity of the Gopher version handicapped the web version. Staff could not write texts embedding links or internal references. In March 1995, the team disabled the KB's Gopher version, freeing them to exploit HTML features to their fullest.

KB2 and KB3

During the winter of 1995-96, the staff rewrote the KB software to provide easier maintenance, faster searching, more search options, and other features not possible when the original web version was written. KB2, written primarily by Matt Liggett, with additional modules written by Alan Meiss and John Nienart, replaced the original on March 6, 1996.

After over three years of work by Mike MacKenzie, Ed Dragomer, David Jantzen, Mark Meiss, Mike Fragassi, Josh Reedy, Andrea Donderi, Jonathan Phillips, and others, a new iteration of the Knowledge Base code, KB3, went into production in July 2002.

The KMS

With the Empowering People strategic plan, and specifically Action Item 27a, Knowledge Management System, in 2009 the KM team was tasked to develop a modern KMS, to better realize the potential for knowledge management at IU.

After a few frustrating false starts, in June 2013 the KM team began using Scrum/Agile development methods. By June 2014, they had delivered a new Knowledge Base front end; in October 2015, a new back-end work environment (kms.iu.edu) was released and the legacy KB (bell.ucs.indiana.edu) decommissioned.

Development continues, with incremental releases focused on improving back-end functionality. The next major feature set will be an authoring environment for KB/KMS contributors and content owners, with emphasis on ease of use and a transparent, flexible workflow.

For more, see About the Knowledge Management System and the Knowledge Base.

About the Knowledge Base

The KB receives millions of hits yearly, approximately 17 million in 2015. Support Center consultants still use the KB to capture solutions to problems users experience. For more, see About the UITS Knowledge Management team.

This is document acjq in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2017-05-10 09:51:40.

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