Quick! Wiki Wiki!

Despite promises to myself at least to do a blog post on sharepoint or something similar, I’ve decided to continue with the current theme of examining different enterprise 2.0 platforms (mostly because of my Enterprise 2.0 workshop activities from my course on Enterprise 2.0).

Standing at number 7 in Alexa’s top 500 visited sites on the web, Wikipedia represents the largest of this blog’s focus – Wiki’s. As most of you will be well aware, Wikipedia is an online, collaborative encyclopaedia that contains millions of articles that can be edited by anybody. The motivation and exploration as to why a phenomenon such as Wikipedia works is something I’ve covered before but right now I’m interested in how one might integrate a ‘wiki’ into an enterprise setting.

Wiki’s are a defining example of a collaborative work space. Wiki.com defines them as “a database of pages which visitors can edit live.” Put simply, they provide a workspace of organised web pages. These trees of linked pages are used to exchange ideas, information and manage projects amongst their other potential uses. Visitors to these wiki’s can leave comments and engage in online discussion too.

The benefits of wikis are better enunciated with examples from a number of case studies I’ve been looking at on the net. Lasica recently wrote about ‘Intelpedia’, “the Intel encyclopaedia that anybody can edit”, a reference to Wikipedia’s own slogan that carries the same message. Intel, with its penchant for Web 2.0 has taken to maintaining its own internal wiki for the purpose of knowledge sharing. However with time, employees with different interests converged on the wiki, bringing information about different areas relevant to Intel employees, such as clubs for sports and recreation.

Beth Stackpole of Computerworld has also talked about the way a number of different organisations have implemented wikis as a new means of collaboration. She notes especially that enterprise system software giant SAP has taken to employing a point system that seeks to increase participation and garner quality. It’s something of a social engineering experiment, where users under this regime will want to create high quality articles and edits in order to be recognised.

Despite these benefits, there are always a number of lingering, problematic issues that can hinder contributions and even cause failures. With communities of expert contributors like the SAP wiki, there can exist a reluctance to contribute or edit work as a user may feel their contribution will be rejected by their peers. A semi-failed wiki implementation reported on by Mayfield of Many 2 Many is that of ‘LA Times’ and their “Wikitorials” described as “an online feature that will empower you to rewrite Los Angeles Times editorials”.

The project forked, deviating almost immediately from its original intention of allowing users to edit an editorial, which is essentially a biased point of view, to giving them a ‘Counter point’ page that would see a Wikipedia style entry created about the editorial. The initial problematic idea behind “Wikitorials” was compounded by editors having strong, differing points of view (the first editorial was on the subject of ‘war’).

In my own experience, using wikis can be useful for collaborative group work. Although, since my first semester of uni, I’ve not used one for any of my uni work. This is simply because I have a preference for using Google’s ‘google groups’ for basically all of the same functionality of a wiki, with the ability to update all other members of the group with emails. As long as members are checking the wiki often, it is merely a matter of preference.

I’ve also made small contributions to a wiki myself. In my scenario, it was a wiki maintained for a competitive video game, and I’d tasked myself with maintaining wiki entries composed of player information. It’s a somewhat finicky system at times, insofar as formatting goes. With the lack of a GUI, I was forced to try and decipher how the formatting tags worked and even today there are issues on some of these pages that I haven’t been able to rectify. Actually, I haven’t touched it in a couple of years, and it’s severely out of date.

Still, the value is there. If I got my act together and cleaned that wiki right up, maybe I’d have something both to be proud of and something valuable to the community as well. You can’t let the prospect of failure turn you away, especially with the relatively low cost of Wiki software. (Or no cost if you’re using free web hosted wikis).

Afterall, to keep up with competitors in the IT space, you’ve gotta Wiki-wiki. That is, ‘Hurry-quick’ in Hawaiian.

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