As a technical basis, we chose the BSCW system (Basic Support for Cooperative Work), developed by the Fraunhofer Institute FIT. This groupware system facilitates the coordination and accomplishment of group work in shared workspaces. Since it is web-based it works independently of a specific operating system and can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. The user can create folders and various types of objects (charts, URLs etc), and download and maintain them (version control, conversion). Object-specific information (eg who has read or changed a document) can be recalled anytime by the members of the workspace by a simple mouse click on a symbol next to that object. They can receive a daily activity report that lists all activities which occurred the day before, and the system also offers flexible allocation of rights. Plenty of other functionalities are available. The BSCW system was modified to meet the requirements of the insurance company, and was introduced using the metaphor 'Networked Knowledge Market' (NetKM). Only invited and registered members could enter this portal. Advised by the company, we developed a folder structure consisting of nine main folders, eg organisation, presentations, teaching materials, FAQ or personal folders. We provided them with some material and all users could add their own material. Our aim was to support self-organisation, rather than regulating the content and ways of using the system. The customary methods of communication persisted, and the NetKM complemented but did not replace them.
Users were encouraged to establish as many objects as they wanted within the main folders. In the first year these totalled 337 folders on different levels within the main folders; the folders contained 1043 documents. The number of new objects varies greatly over the period. Back-office employees, trainers and researchers all contributed material to the NetKM. Interestingly, the data suggest that trainers who left the department stored their 'knowledge' in the NetKM shortly before leaving. In this way, important information was transmitted to colleagues and remained available to the company.
The number of downloads (reading activities) per month from the NetKM is even more irregular. The data show that the number of downloads is obviously not dependent on the number of new documents. For example, there was one month (March 2002) when only two new documents were uploaded, but 101 downloads were registered. This may be explained by the fact that this analysis accounted only for the upload of new documents, not the update of existing documents. Documents that were often updated contained current information and were often downloaded by users.
The written and oral questioning brought up some interesting findings. The users mentioned plenty of things they appreciated about the NetKM and also some aspects that could be improved. They also provided us with useful hints for the further development of mobile self-organised methods of knowledge-sharing in dispersed groups.