E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Hands On: Why You Need a Wiki

I am not sure how I ended up bumping into this particular article from Canadian Business Online but I am surely glad I did because I have enjoyed reading through it quite a bit. It is titled Hands On: Why you need a wiki and it comes to share some interesting, and spot on, points as to why businesses would be looking into adopting wikis within the firewall in order to spark some further discussions and get knowledge workers collaborate closer with one another. Jennifer Rivkin has put together a very enlightening read, specially for those who may not be familiar with wikis and how they operate and I thought I would comment as well on a couple of paragraphs where I felt I could chime in based on my own experience of having used wikis for several years now. Thus here is that commentary that came to mind as I was reading through the article, which I can certainly recommend reading through it, specially if you are skeptic about making use of wikis within the enterprise, or whatever other business:

"Although wikis are plain text (read: not so pretty to look at), you can easily attach Word files, PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets and videos — anything attachable to an e-mail. Want to see what your employees have added or changed? You can be automatically e-mailed whenever a page you’re interested in is altered, or click the "view recent changes" button to compare documents."

Well, to start with wikis are not only available in plain text. Quite a lot has changed over the last few months, specially with the particular buzz of adding some extended features to make the experience much richer and fruitful. Thus capabilities like adding WYSIWYG editors have certainly come a long way and you are now more than capable to play around with different options to enrich that plain text that you may have been exposed to in the past. Take, for example, cases like Wetpaint, Wikispaces or Confluence. They are just three instances that would show you how sharing content in a wiki can be as rich as you may have wanted / needed all along.

Another interesting item from the quoted text mentioned above is the fact that indeed through e-mail and "View Recent Changes" you can keep up with everything that is going on in the wiki. However, those are not the only methods put in practice nowadays. One of the things that you have probably noticed yourself as well is how more and more wiki engines are actually adding Really Simple Syndication feeds, or RSS feeds, in order to syndicate their content so that people get notified about potential changes directly into their feed reader client, without them having to go elsewhere. This RSS adoption is something that I have been weblogging about earlier on today as well and where I have indicated how it has moved from the blogosphere and integrated with everything else, like in our case over here, wikis.

"Besides using a wiki to manage documents effectively and store key information, you can also "grab all that tacit knowledge that exists in the minds of workers and make it more explicit," says David Senf, a Toronto-based program manager at technology research firm IDC Canada Ltd"

So accurate ! I just couldn’t help but agree with David on that statement big time ! This is all what wikis are all about. You can certainly make use of them as whatever the complicated Intellectual Capital system you can think of, but at the same time their state of the art simplicity is what actually drags people into the wiki experience, the fact that you can use your favourite browser, load a URL, click on the Edit button, type away and then share is perhaps one of the closest processes to capture tacit knowledge successfully and, indeed, make it a bit explicit, so that others can benefit from it and reuse it as they may see fit.

"[…] And departing staff won’t take all their accumulated knowledge with them, because much of it will be stored on your wiki"

That is also very true, and something that would help address some of the concerns and issues that I have been discussing with Dennis McDonald just recently about the subject of the maturing workforce and how their knowledge and experiences could be captured before they would actually start retiring. Wikis are just such a relatively easy to use technology that even non technical people can master in a matter of minutes, so imagine their great power in putting together a space where everyone is more than welcome to share whatever piece of knowledge they may and which others could benefit from.

"If you’re scanning this story for the catch, you won’t find it. There’s no financial risk to a wiki, because it’s so cheap to set up. The information can be protected behind your firewall. You’re free to set access levels as you wish, from a "democracy" in which any employee is allowed to revise any document to a top-down model in which only senior managers can read and edit certain pages. But if you opt for the latter, don’t limit access too much. Although confidential information and sensitive pages need to be protected, the more staff who have access to a wiki, the better it will work. The point, after all, is to tap into the power of shared information."

This paragraph is probably one of the best references out there that would explain why businesses should be paying attention to wikis in order to help knowledge workers get closer to one another and share their knowledge in an environment where there are no restrictions, no hierarchical structure, no clear definitions for different roles. Just purely sharing information for the sake of knowledge sharing and collaborating in an environment where everyone would benefit from it and all of that without hardly any effort. Yes, indeed, the power of collaboration in a space where you are in control and not everyone else. How difficult could that be to understand?

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  1. For any of the Corporate readers hesitating about a wiki: I use them with my Boy Scout troop. Wehen we have a big outing that we’re planning (e.g., summer camp, Philmont Scout Reservation), I create a new wiki and start to accumulate information, status, and then wrap it all up with lessons-learned (what I’d do better next time). Th

    In case I’m not being clear, my 11-year-old son ran the wiki for summer camp this year. I got it started but he kept it going. He got a computer-phobic adult hooked on wikis based on what he was doing. This is a great technology that you should be using already.


  2. Hi Andy ! (Long time no speak!)

    Thanks a lot for sharing those great stories with us on the powerful capabilities of making use of wikis, so much so that even people who may not be too technical would be able to make use of them effectively and get them ready and up to speed. However, what I really liked about those stories you have shared with us is the fact that you have been applying them to different tasks that may not be very much related to technology, which I think is terrific, because it clearly shows the level of penetration that wikis have for almost any single kind of activity.

    Thus, thanks again for sharing those stories and let’s keep spreading the word around. Wikis are here to stay, so let’s just try to make the best out of them for those daily tasks we need to get done…

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