The "recordness" of electronic records pt 1 - aggregation

By Jesse Wilkins posted 07-26-2010 15:34


Last week I saw a tweet by Omri Duek that he'd received an email from a client. When he looked at the email, Outlook Social COnnector had pulled a picture from her Facebook account that was, let us say, less than flattering. I'd seen similar sorts of things over the years using Xobni and noted that. We exchanged a couple of tweets about saving tweets as records and then he asked whether that picture that came up with the email would be part of the business record, given that it's what the user saw. My response, in 140 characters or less, was that "for me the record is what was sent, not what was displayed, because it would be displayed differently to different people." In other words, to paraphrase Einstein, the record should be as complete as possible, but no more complete. 

If you think about records management 1.0, the world of physical records and even many types of electronic records, a record is what a record is. That is, a paper document filed as a record would look the same to anyone who pulled it out of the file. If two people look at that piece of paper they read the same words, the salutation is the same, the notary seal is equally visible, and so forth. Whether the file is considered complete or not, what is in the folder appears the same to everyone with physical access to that folder. 
But in the electronic world that doesn't have to be the case. In this particular context, the ERM 1.0 example that is probably most compelling deals with links to websites and other electronic resources. Some links are fairly static, while others are generated dynamically. Even for static links, however, websites get reorganized or rebranded all the time with the result that all those links that were sent or bookmarked no longer work. And of course the link text may not agree with the actual link itself. This raises a couple of interesting records management questions. First, do you save the link text, the link, or both? And second, do you need to save the web page that appears at the other end of the link? This is not a trivial question - carried to its absolutely absurd extreme, saving a web page could well require saving a copy of the entire Internet
Today the issue has extended beyond the link text and underlying link - even if the link no longer works, it was part of the original content that was transmitted, published, stored, and used. What happens when content is added to that original content? Tools like Xobni and the Outlook Social Connector add content to the existing content, at least as the user perceives it. There are other tools that allow users to post comments to websites that is visible to anyone with the appropriate plug-in. And much of the premise and promise of social media tools like Facebook lies with the ability to comment on, rate, and recommend posts and even other users' comments. 
So what's the record? I don't think an organization can manage information it does not control. If someone sends me an email, they have no control over how long I decide to keep it - which is why retention should at least take into account things like statutes of limitations (and why it's important to think before you hit SEND). Similarly, if a link breaks in the future, it is not the organization's responsibility to relentlessly track down the new link (though it probably does have some responsibility to maintain its own internal links and may need to retain iterations of that content according to its retention policy). 
The bottom line is that the record is what the record was when it was sent/published/posted by whomever sent/published/posted it - no more and no less. The mere fact that someone comments on it should not require that comment to be considered part of the record. That's the only way to ensure that the record accurately reflects the initial transaction. If the organization wants to retain comments, etc. it will quickly become problematic to do so consistently - after all, a blog post or Tweet could be commented on or responded to that day, or not for several years. Organizations would be well-served to address this in their policy relating to that particular service: something along the lines of "Content not published/posted by XYZ is not owned by XYZ and may not be retained or monitored for any particular length of time. If your request requires a response please contact XYZ at (email) or (phone number)."
And certainly anything that is not even added to the comment, but merely displayed along with it, would not form part of the record. There is simply no accounting for the plethora of ways in which a given piece of content could be displayed, rendered, aggregated, etc. given the vast variety of clients and services available to consume it. 
In my next post I will take another look at the "recordness" of electronic records with an eye towards structure and presentation. 

#recordness #socialconnector #electronicrecord #xobni #ElectronicRecordsManagement #outlook