Lawyers and accountants find it helpful to bookmark documents during the course of their research. Many professional research products offer research folders in which documents can be bookmarked. Researchers can give their folders a name, typically for a client or a research topic, as well as write notes on the individual documents. Typically, a research folder in a professional research product can bookmark only content inside that particular research product.
But researchers increasingly conduct searches and browse content not only in professional research products but also on government websites and public search engines. Tax, legal and regulatory professionals increasingly use software applications to respond to their clients’ needs. Software and free and for-fee content are all part of professionals’ workflows. Shouldn’t research folders not follow that workflow?
Today’s professional workflows involve teams. Law firms do work on behalf of corporate legal departments. Lawyers and accountants from different practice groups – labor, tax, securities, etc., – work together on behalf on a single client. They share research. Of course, their research activities involve the Web. And they use software. Wouldn’t it be nice if the research folder also became a collaboration folder?
I think it’s time to think about transforming the traditional research folder into a collaboration folder. It would have elements of social bookmarking, traditional research folders, SharePoint, Twitter, Facebook and iCloud – but more customizable to today’s professional workflows. Professionals would be able to store, organize and annotate links. They could selectively grant access to colleagues. Regardless of the proprietary research system to which a link in a folder is stored, colleagues (inside and outside their organizations) would be able to access the content. The folder would be searchable. It would be possible to set up alerts on the links so that when any content stored in the folder is updated, particularly laws and regulations, folder members would know through emails or text messages. It would be possible to access the folder via a mobile device. Invitees would be able to add notes and forward the links. There would be multi-channel access – desktop, cloud, mobile, etc.
There are, of course, several challenges to such a collaboration folder, including confidentiality, the need to delete out-of-date content, the need to manage permissions as folder members’ roles change, etc. Intellectual property issues arise. Who owns the content in the folder? If a folder member annotates content in the folder, does that member own the annotation? It can get complicated.
Regardless of the challenges, I do believe that traditional research folders are evolving towards a collaboration folder. Any thoughts?