A community is like a ship: everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.
---Henrik Ibsen

I accept chaos. I am not sure whether it accepts me.
-Bob Dylan

This is a wiki. You are browsing - and hopefully at some point even editing - the Glostra Wiki. You use your web browser to access and study the site just like any other web site found on the internet. So what's all the fuss with wikis nowadays?

The single most important advantage of wiki software is that everybody can edit it using any Web browser. This means there doesn't have to be a certain technically qualified person assigned to carry out all the changes upon request. That's it.

But you see: THIS IS HUGE! It should be written in letters the size of elephants! People using wikis don't need to know one bit of HTML markup, all they have to do is click "Edit" and start typing. With the use of "What You See Is What You Get" editor (WYSIWYG) you don't even need to learn wiki markup, if you can't be bothered. However, the markup language is extremely easy and quick to learn if you happen to have any interest in it. Because of the simpleness of usage, wikis have a very short learning curve. (Rantanen 2007)

For an introduction to the uses and benefits of wikis see Wikis in Plain English YouTube video.

AIIM, a non-profit organization that researches enterprise content management, surveyed 400 companies on their views and expectations on Enterprise 2.0 software (See: "Enterprise 2.0 - Agile, Emergent & Integrated" at AIIM.org). On wikis they concluded the following:

A wiki is a collaborative authoring (content development) Web site. Each wiki should have a defined domain (e.g., creation of a contract, a policy and procedures manual, a reference guide.) Anyone can enter information, or change or comment on anyone else's contributions. A wiki site allows anyone to edit, delete, or modify the content on the Web. In a wiki, the content develops organically. Collective wisdom can emerge as multiple participants add their opinions, comments and expertise. Thus, the wiki is a quick, low-cost approach to gathering enterprise knowledge into a single area.

In its purest implementation, a wiki would impose no rules or roles, but in practice some measures are often taken. For example, sections of the wiki can be hidden from the view of certain collaborators due to the proprietary nature of certain sections of the content. Wikis typically provide integrated version control and audit trails.

Workflow could be integrated into a wiki environment in order to stage how updates are posted. In this type of scenario, an editor would likely be introduced into the process, "approving" content before it is posted, blending writing styles to streamline the wiki's "voice", and monitoring quality.

Among other things, wikis are:

  • Ridiculously cheap and easy to use
    • Some wiki software totally free of charge
    • No need to be necessarily configured up front
    • Easy to implement
    • Inclusive set of intuitive navigation tools
  • Enhance collaboration
    • Always up-to-date
    • Easy access
    • Drastically reduces the need for emails
    • Document sharing
    • Heightens meeting efficiency
    • Eliminates "silos" in organizations
    • Can be used as a platform for "mashups"
  • Secure
    • Automated backups
    • History of editions
    • Permissions
    • Information doesn't have to be stored on a laptop, that can easily be stolen or lost

"Wiki is a shortening for WikiWikiWeb and it origins form a Hawaiian word 'quick'. The original developer of the wiki concept, Ward Cunningham, described wiki as 'the simplest online database that could possibly work'. Like normal web pages, wiki pages can naturally include any kinds of attachments, but using the WYSIWYG editor enables also fast implementation of different plugins: Calendar, automatic stock charts, Google gadgets, spreadsheets, LaTeX equations, slideshows and embedded videos." (Rantanen 2007)

One very important thing to remember about wikis in general is that they are not necessarily all like Wikipedia - wikis can be used for a lot more than just encyclopedia solutions!
Enterprise Wiki vs. Wikipedia:

  1. Secure vs. Open
  2. Collaboration, not publishing
  3. Vandalism not present
  4. Small team rather than the whole planet
  5. A tool, not an encyclopedia

Wikis are extremely cheap. Some software, for example MediaWiki (powers e.g. Wikipedia), are completely free of charge. There are over a hundred different hosted and installable wiki applications, but their functions, reliability and limitations are varying. The service platform can be installed on local server or communities can use a centralized wiki provider, a wiki farm. The major wiki providers and their characteristics can be examined at www.wikimatrix.org".(Rantanen 2007)

Wikis are usually extremely easy to implement, as they need no major configuration up front. All most commonly used features come "out-of-the-box". The very powerful search, categorizations, registration and login attributes are all built-in, and thus, wikis generally only need some minor configurations before they are ready for widespread use. Companies naturally need to carefully consider the security issues before implementing an enterprise wiki (security issues discussed later on).

Wikis come with an inclusive set of intuitive navigation tools. In addition to the powerful search function, wikis can also be navigated using different visual features, such as links, categories, tagging or ratings. Tagging is a fairly new optional extension, where users assign "tags" or marks (metadata) for the articles they read and write. The different tags can then be collected into personal tag accounts or tag clouds, showing e.g. related or most popular tags of the website. This is a fairly new way of using this kind of user-generated metadata. Users can also be given the possibility to rate the articles in a wiki, and then produce lists such as "most popular this week" to help users find the articles of best quality. Also the power of linking should not be underestimated. For example Google's all-mighty PageRank algorithm computes a recursive score for web pages, based on the weighted sum of the pages linking to them. Thus, PageRank derives from human-generated links, and correlates with human concepts of importance.

Wikis enhance collaboration. As everybody (who has been granted the permission) can freely edit a wiki page, this creates possibilities for true cooperation. Good examples are e.g. team or project wiki spaces/areas, where all team members can collaboratively process articles, express their thoughts, check the project time table and status, record meeting minutes and share relevant information and ideas. And what's best, all of this happens in real-time - all information is always up-to-date. Wikis also enable efficient file and document sharing, as users can upload even large files into wikis, depending only on particular wiki limitations. Wikis also usually come equipped with a "Discussion" section for every page, enhancing e.g. collaborative writing. For instance writing about Global Warming in Wikipedia would definately be impossible without the discussion page, as opinions and information vary considerably among people and no real consensus prevails.

As more and more information becomes accessible through the wiki, the need for constant emailing reduces considerably. Thus, wikis are a highly efficient tool to prevent and tackle a big problem many knowledge workers have today - cluttered email inboxes (see: Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast - NY Times, June 14, 2008). Instead of emailing the meeting schedules and agendas to everybody as file attachments, you can simply email them a link to the wiki. Now, if someone has to make changes to the agenda, the whole email process doesn't have to start all over again. People can also access the agenda more easily later on now that it's stored in the wiki and not "somewhere" on their computer or inbox. Project members can be informed of the latest changes in the wiki pages they are "watching" for example via RSS feeds.

As people are collaborating more efficiently in the wiki and information about projects is easily accessible to everyone involved, this eliminates the need for unnecessary meetings called plainly because people need to be given status updates on projects etc. Being generally better informed leads also to better-structured meetings, where you actually get to concentrate on the real subject. Your team becomes more efficient. Wikis are an excellent tool for project management.

In addition to enhancing collaboration within teams, wikis also open up information flows between different corners of the whole organization. It can help bring down the information "silos" and let people access the knowledge they need in order to make the best possible decisions and find the best possible experts to contact about problems. This is why wikis should be kept as open as possible, restricting access only to the information that truly needs to be protected.

Wikis can be used as platforms for extensive mashups. A mashup combines data elements from multiple sources, both internal and external, hiding them behind a simple unified graphical interface. Business mashups generally focus on both data aggregation and presentation, adding collaborative functionality and making the end result suitable for use as a business application. Mashups may collect data for example in the form of RSS feeds, photos, videos or mapping, making them very efficient tools to control the increasing amount of information available.

Are wikis secure? Whenever organizations are considering new applications for information storage, they have to be extremely careful about security issues, whatever kind of solutions they are examining. One of the main reasons more organizations haven't already deployed enterprise wikis, in addition to not having a clear understanding of the applications, is that they are extremely wary about security issues concerning for example: vandalism, leakages of sensitive information or hackers breaking in through the security defenses. These are all important questions but they can all be addressed by careful security planning. Referring to what Andrew McAfee, a Harvard Business School professor intensely researching the effects of Web 2.0 on enterprises, wrote in his blog post about security:

"I hear that word used pretty frequently by people who advocate caution or skepticism with Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches, but when I probe I often find nothing more than general unease. I have a hard time thinking of organizations with deeper and more legitimate security concerns than the CIA, FBI, ONI, DIA, and other entities now grouped under the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI). Yet they've all deployed MediaWiki, blogging software, tagging software, and Google search as part of Intellipedia. If the DNI thinks the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 outweigh the costs and risks, including security risks, shouldn't the rest of us feel a lot calmer about using these tools? And shouldn't we take a good hard look at the popular and cheap platforms now available?"

So is anybody truly using wikis yet? Quoting Tommi Rantanen (2007)

"A McKinsey & Co. survey among executives found that a third had already implemented or were planning to implement the most common social software applications (Bughin & Manyika 2007). In addition, Gartner Group predicts that in 2009 wikis will be utilized half of the corporate networks (Colin 2005). Especially in small businesses usage of wikis are being experimented more often, mostly because experimenting is easy and inexpensive (with existing hardware). Also, intranet solutions are often too expensive for small businesses, especially if they need modification. Even so, larger companies are also beginning to see the possibilities of wikis. Nokia, Yahoo, Michelin China, Cingular, Disney, Kodak, Motorola and SAP are some of the largest companies utilizing wikis at least in some form (Goodnoe 2005).<br>

Note that this information is already old. The Web 2.0 hype has only during the last couple of years truly reached the business world, and technology development around these applications continues to run fierce. According to Communication News - "What about Web 2.0 in 2008?" (March, 2008):

The enterprise Web 2.0 market will continue to gain importance in 2008 as an increasing number of firms look to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and social networking to solve long-standing information working problems, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.
"Web 2.0 stepped into the collaboration and productivity market with a bang in 2007," says Forrester researcher G. Oliver Young. "Enterprise Web 2.0 is now delivering substantial business value around collaboration and productivity and has reached the 2008 priority list for many enterprises."

Of course you also want a concrete example, not just empty talk and abstract promises. So here you are:

  • A slideshow presentation on the wiki solution of a company called Avenue A | Razorfish, whose core business areas includes advertising, web design & development, intranets / extranets. Razorfish has implemented an awesome wiki-based intranet, featuring an integrated blogging system, personal tagging, search, different plugins, extensive mashups and much more. Check out presentation at: www.slideshare.net/shivsingh/avenue-a-razorfish-wiki-introduction

    R. Todd Stevens also provides a list of "Fifteen Uses of a Corporate Wiki" in his blog, "Collaborage":
  1. Collecting Business and Technical Requirements
  2. Corporate Dictionary
  3. Meeting Agendas, Notes, Attendees, and Attachments
  4. Organizational and Professional Biography
  5. Status Reporting (Project, Personal, Program, Departmental)
  6. Release Notes and Issue Tracking
  7. Product and Service Documentation
  8. User Manuals, Guides, and Best Bets (Tips)
  9. Policies and Procedures
  10. Brainstorming, Innovation and Patent Processing (Many Eyes)
  11. Intranet Replacement
  12. Metrics Reporting
  13. Along with RSS, notification of upcoming Events or Announcements
  14. Error Reporting, Tracking, and Resolution
  15. Locating Like Minded or SME within the Enterprise

See also