Wikis While You Work

By Dave Greenfield  |  Posted 2007-11-21 Print this article Print

But just building a wiki wont necessarily attract participation. A core group of active users needs to be pulled together to form the community supporting the wiki. Encouraging contributions becomes a matter of providing incentives for participation—using both carrots and sticks.

Carrots ideally should be aimed at evaluating both the volume and quality of contributions. Kane, for example, lets his students know that their grade will be based on the level of participation in the wiki. The more they participate, the higher their grade. To prevent students from posting with little thought given to content, he uses a rating system in which peers rate the quality of one anothers posts. The highest-rated posts garner bonus points for the students, culminating in their final grade.

Business may not have the luxury of grading employees on content, but they can provide incentives for wiki participation in other ways.

Within IBM, for example, the wiki service is promoted—a lot. A landing page draws attention to new blogs and wikis launched within the company.

Community participation is also used as a means of evaluating individual expertise and suitability for inclusion in new project teams. And as for sticks, enterprises can consider using community participation as part of their annual evaluation of employee performance.

In addition, IT departments can charge a higher rate for deploying alternative technologies, further increasing the incentive for departments to deploy low- or no-cost wikis, suggested Maria Azua, vice president of innovation and technology in the CIOs office at IBM.

While wikis have traditionally been governed by the crowd, business leaders may find it necessary to provide some direction for content. This can be particularly true in smaller groups, where the network effect may not be sufficient for self-policing and self-correction. Direction, though, comes with the inherent risk of stifling collaboration and should be used sparingly and carefully.

Keep it simple

Ultimately, soliciting contributions will work only if users find the wiki environment easy to work in. To those ends, all IT professionals interviewed for this story highly recommend using a wiki that incorporates a WYSIWYG editor.

In addition, from an administration standpoint, directory integration is important so users dont need additional credentials for wiki access. If youre running a project-oriented wiki site, youll also want document management features, such as a version history capability, advised Citrixs Christian.

When looking for platforms that include these features, IT managers must decide between stand-alone wikis and suites. A stand-alone wiki may be easier to implement initially, but wiki capabilities that come as part of a suite may make more sense for enterprises looking to deploy a broad range of Enterprise 2.0 applications and capabilities—providing a familiarity and level of support often missing in stand-alone wikis. Jive Softwares Clearspace, BEA Systems AquaLogic and Microsofts SharePoint are two examples of enterprise suites that offer wiki capabilities, tightly coupled with blogging, tagging, bookmarking and other social networking features.

That said, going forward, many organizations would like to avoid vendor lock-in. Many would rather see RSS used to integrate applications.

Kane, for example, said he relies on RSS to embed reading lists from Google Reader and favorites sites from in his courses site. IBMs QEDWiki takes integration one step further by blending a mashup with a wiki. With QEDWiki, a single page presents user-contributed content as well as information pulled from a range of sources using QEDWikis Web services interface.

Organizations looking for a best-of-breed wiki will also need to choose between deploying the services in-house or relying on a wiki service.

In-house products may offer more control but are generally harder to configure and set up. Products in this space include TikiWiki, Wacko­Wiki and XWiki. All offer page history for tracking changes, WYSIWYG editing, data storage and a plug-in system for expanding the product sets capabilities.

Wiki services eliminate much of the day-to-day maintenance, but many services target consumers and run ads. Wiki services that let organizations perform branding and provide page history, WYSIWYG editing and ACLs (access control lists) for preventing unlawful access to information on the site include BrainKeeper, SamePage, Socialtext and Wetpaint.

Whatever the architecture, one thing is clear: The near-term challenge for most IT organizations wont be in finding a wiki solution but in expanding user awareness of these collaboration tools. Appointing a wiki or Enterprise 2.0 champion to educate the user community is one approach that some organizations have found helpful.

But watch the seeds that you sow: Once that awareness takes root, IT departments will have to be ready to deliver wikis with the auditing and security features the organization requires—in the time frame and with the simplicity users desire.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on image editing and Web publishing tools.


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