Thursday, January 1, 2009

23 Things Vol. 6: Wikis and Collaboration Software

The sixth module in the 23 Things list covers Wikis specifically and collaborative software in general. I particular interest in knowledge management and skills shares so I am always looking for new ways to share information and collaborate over projects. For all the focus on Wikis I think emphasizing the technology might be a mistake. (However, 23 Things generally about introducing the SLA community to new technologies so I could be missing the boat so to speak.) Focusing solely on the tool and not on the organization culture is a mistake. I have observed offices currently undergo the transition to Sharepoint, but the organization still relies on a largely feudal culture. Units within the organization guard their knowledge and powers that be don’t encourage an open sharing environment. Collaboration requires buy-in from all the involved parties or any tool is going to be underutilized.

Wikis can be valuable tool for supporting a collaborative, sharing environment, but can’t create it from nothing. Though when trying to implement a sharing portal or tool it is important to understand the organization needs versus the software capabilities. Wikis do several things well: low barrier for content creation, open source solutions, high cultural visibility, but they are not perfect. The general benefit for Wikis: the simplicity; can be their undoing. Wikis generally don’t scale without heavy forethought and controls that stifle the organic growth. Monitoring the content and maintaining quality control can be difficult since every user can add/subtract content. Wiki software is ideal for a small business, or small business unit, but organizations can out-grow the software package. Though there are enterprise solutions like Sharepoint that better suited to large organizations (with large budgets and dedicated IT staff).

I have my apprehensions about Wikis aside there are some Wiki sites that I enjoy. The most relevant site is the Library Success website moderated by Meredith Farkas.




Another is the human power search engine Mahalo which employs Wiki technology with a nice user interface layered on top.

Wikis and other collaborative tools can organizations large, small and in between build their knowledge base and help enrich their work force. New employees could belong to a new hire wiki where they could share information like whom to talk to in HR about getting your travel expenses reimbursed, where is the best dry cleaners near the office, and how to best approach a particular type of customer. The information management/knowledge management team could monitor the wiki topics for information that could graduate onto the general organization intranet.