Practicing what you preach: when search is not enough for a Knowledge Base

Working independently you often have to solve complicated IT issues rather than calling the IT Help Desk as I did for 25 years when I worked in the City of London. 
A few years back resolving technical IT issues was nigh on impossible without retaining expensive external help. Today with networks, online search and a friendly local services business, its doable albeit time consuming. It does though allow you to experience the trials and tribulations associated with establishing and maintaining an effective Knowledge Base.

The context:

A decade ago I converted from being a PC user to a Mac user.  While I loved the order and structure of Windows Explorer navigation I found that Apple had cracked the user interface and synergy of devices. And it seemed to be less prone to Trojan Viruses.
So once Office for Mac appeared and I could use the tools most clients are familiar with I went the whole hog and over the next few years acquired a MacBook Pro, iMac and iPhone all of which sync seamlessly and have been fairly robust (up until now).
Having a deep distrust of relying purely on search it took me a while to create a navigational structure akin to Microsoft’s Explorer using Apple’s Finder tool but I got there mimicking what I had before on a PC.
Like many I used the folder structure in my Mail server to catalogue and group correspondence.  Mail was configured to mirror the file navigational structure so I thought I was ready for most eventualities..
Evernote and DropBox are the collaboration tools I use for current projects and where everything associated with them is stored. iCloud holds the most important historical contact data, Keychain the passwords and Time Machine which I back up to an external Hard Drive is the safety net for the Knowledge Base I’ve acquired over the past 20 years.

The issue:

A month ago my iMac’s Finder stopped working which meant I had to rely solely on Apple’s search tool Spotlight to find stuff on my Knowledge Base.  Despite a trawl thru various technological sites for a fix no one seemed to know how to get Finder working. Within a day I realised how dependent i’d become on ‘assisted search’

The advice:

Back up the iMac using Time Machine. Wipe it clean. Install the latest operating system (El Capitan) Export all material from the Time Machine back up but create a new profile rather than use the same profile. Should prevent the Finder problem being exported!!!!! All sounded good until I tried to export the data from Time Machine.

The subsidiary Issue:

I created a new profile on the iMac and was able to import most of the data but the majority of files can only be accessed thru my previous user profile which had different permissions. And Time Machine hides Mail folders (doesn’t show in Users>Name>Library>). So I couldn’t export the mailboxes as I’d originally intended to.

I felt I was spiralling down into the depths of uncertainty.

The final solution:

Find another machine, reinstall from Time Machine in my former profile and then save all the data (email/files/photos/videos) to an external hard drive. 

Sounded simple. In practice it wasn’t.
I had to borrow an iMac from the very supportive Fermin Ayucar at BeValued, recreate my system on that, save that using Time Machine to a hard drive and then wipe clear my own machine again before using the ‘new’ system to reinstall all of my Knowledge Base on my iMac.

And finally:

The sense of satisfaction when you ‘crack it’ and manage to rebuild a machine is immense. The sense of frustration though in not being able to locate stuff you know is saved is enormous and reflects what many people find.
It reinforces the piece I wrote a few month’s back on the need for assisted search and tags which contained this prophetic quote from my good friend Martin White of Intranet Focus who said:
If you can’t find information, then in effect it does not exist. Your search application may return 85,340 results for a query, but if the most relevant information was not indexed, or your security permissions inadvertently prevented the information from being displayed — can you trust your search application?
Fortunately the reinstall workaround was successful and all machines are backed and functioning. If you want more please contact me and I’d be happy to talk you thru it.