Of all the E2.0 tools, I tend to focus a bit more on wikis than others. So I wanted to share some blog-love with the whole wiki market and discuss why wikis are so important.
I came across intranet wikis in late 2002, just before people started noticing Wikipedia - the most popular and successful single wiki. Purists will note that wiki technology was created in 1994-1995, a decade before most people heard about it. As with many Internet technologies, wikis followed a pattern of adoption where at first the technology was used by a small group of people (also known as the geeks) who understood the value the new affordances provided. Then a tipping point occurred, and someone applied the technology in a profound and relevant way — introducing it to the masses. Commercial interests developed. And now we have a proliferation of wiki options and uses.
A wiki is simply a web page that can be edited directly online by an authorized user. Consider the billions of pages on the Internet: Before wikis (and related technologies), your typical Internet experience was to find and read what other people wrote. The Internet was a library, and you were the spectator. But this model caused frustrations:
- Adding new web content to a site you owned is very challenging. Many web sites are supported by content management software, which should make the job of creating web content easy. But the software was either not very easy to use or accessible to anyone but the webmaster. And still, many sites look crappy; unless they were designed professionally. But once you get a designer involved — add time and money to everything.
- Web content always seems to be irrelevant, outdated, or wrong. People who write static web content never understand what you need. They just write what they think you should see. In a sense, we are victims of content that other people created.
- You can never find anything on the web, especially on the intranet. Instead, you find hundreds of pages of things that a search engine provides for you. So you either bookmark lots of pages, or you have a very organized friend whom you email every time you needed to get something online.
Wikis offer a fundamentally different approach to web content. If you find a mistake on a page, you can correct it. If you believe a page needs to exist where one does not, you can create it. This freedom to alter content on the web transforms a reader into a contributor. This very freedom is at the crux of the social questions about free content, defacement, intellectual property, and the war between experts and networked amateurs. And this fueled the (now quiet) intellectual debate about Wikipedia.
When wikis enter a corporate environment the nature of these intellectual issues change dramatically. We’re much less worried about reckless defacement of intranet sites. After all, digital transactions inside a company are recorded, and most people want to keep their jobs. The chanllenge is to foster proper use, not prevent misuse.
People quickly understand that an intranet wiki allows them to alter the content on their intranet without having to bother a webmaster. This was the main attraction for many people I spoke to in the early days of corporate wikis. They looked to create “Workipedias” which were internal “wikipedia-like” corporate wikis for all internal information. E2.0 pundits debated if the workipedia models is the best way to go. I found it worked in some companies not in others. So for me the debate lives with no strong evidence, just strong opinion.
But along with the “quick editing without getting though an approval cycle” value that wikis provide, there are two other profound values that wikis offer:
- A collection of wiki pages becomes a valuable information asset that grows and improves as it gets used. Wiki pages are just editable web pages. But when you interlink pages together, you create the opportunity to discover and reshape information in ways that go beyond any document. Not a new insight, but one that was lost on many people until they saw the power of networked information.
- If you and I edit the same page, we start to forge a working relationship. We demonstrate that we both care about the content on the page, and that we are both willing to improve it. Wikis enable content-co-creation much more effectivly than using a shared document. Wikis create ad-hoc teams.
A few months ago, when I was an analyst with Forrester Research, I conducted a study along with Oliver Young to understand the state of the Enterprise 2.0 industry from the perspective of its most relevant component tools. We found that Wikis proved to be the highest “value” tool reported by users. They were also being adopted at a healthy pace. In a sense, they were the lead dog in the race. Now the report did explain that most vendors in the market are creating E2.0 platforms that contain multiple technologies. So many people are not looking to choose between a wiki or a blog, but are looking at which platform to choose, where each offer wikis, blogs, and more.
As a result, I published a follow-up report on the seven key questions to address when selecting an enterprise wiki (many of these steps apply to other E2.0 technologies). That report is also available to Forrester clients, but a very good write up is available here which summarizes many of the main points in the report. Note: there are many wiki options, and I can help you pick the right one for your needs.
My conclusions from years of managing and implementing wikis, as well as peer-reviewed published research that I conducted tells me that wikis are the strong play of Enterprise 2.0. Put it together with a profile capability (the foundation of social networking tools), and you are armed to start reshaping the intranet. Of course, it’s never the weapon that wins the war, but you want to make sure you have the right gear.