Wikis at Work

For some types of business collaboration, a database can be overkill. Try a wiki instead.

Sometimes a corporate database is just two-fisted overkill, with too many ties that bind. Databases, with their fields and their schemas, are often overly structured for the kinds of on-the-fly data-collection tasks many businesses encounter. Whats an alternative? Application wikis, hosted on the Web by a Silicon Valley startup called JotSpot.

Some 100 information technology consultants at Dickson Allan, an IT consulting firm based in Troy, Mich., are using JotSpot to collaborate with each other across the companys seven field offices.

Its a new tool, designed by JotSpot CEO Joe Kraus, one of the co-founders of, and it builds and organizes wikis that are somewhat different from standard ones.

Whats a wiki? Derived from the Hawaiian term for "quick," a wiki is a small piece of server software that lets people freely create and edit Web content using any Web browser, then have it hosted as an archive on the Web. Think of several people at different locations contributing freely editable Web pages at the same Web location.

One of the more robust wikis is at, which bills itself as "the free encyclopedia." It is a multilingual, open-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Wikis have several unique properties compared with other kinds of collaborative communication forums. First, anyone can change or delete information aggregated in a wiki. Because they collect HTML information in a freely editable way, wikis are often compared to blogs. But blogs usually have just one online author, while wikis are collaborative.

JotSpot is something of a cross between a standard, text-based wiki and a database. For example, a consultant at Dickson Allan can send an e-mail related to a specific client to a JotSpot page, and that e-mail will become part of a running Web archive hosted on JotSpot servers. Other consultants messages related to the same client are also collected.

The consultants archived messages are indexed and searchable, as are Microsoft Word and Excel attachments. Consultants use JotSpots reporting tools to produce reports easily, based on searches they perform within the wiki.

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