'Wiki Moments' Lead to Better Collaboration

Wikis can flare up fast and burn out slow. In between lies a path of confusion, illumination and resolution.

In the course of covering the evolution of collaboration software, some bloggers are tracking "wiki moments," ideas that start as seeds and germinate into big bouquets of contemplation and collaboration.

Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta said a wiki moment can start when a user comes across a confusing issue and can't find the right insight from other sources. The user collects relevant information in a wiki, eventually opening the topic up for discussion by inviting friends to chime in.

Then comes the magic. Gotta said the wiki has the "potential for network effects to kick in as friends invite friends and so on to the point where perhaps the wiki will go viral. At some point-the community gets noticed more broadly and mainstream conversations are altered as a result."

Socialtext co-founder Ross Mayfield told eWEEK a wiki moment is when a light bulb goes off for someone while using a wiki with a group successfully. For example, at a Web conference in Italy in February, Mayfield said some panelists were debating what they should say, when they had a wiki moment in which they converged on the answer.

"You certainly can't fully understand how it could create business value until it's piloted in your business and culture," Mayfield said. "When a group collaborates towards a goal, and the structure of the application unfolds, there is an aha moment."

Central to the effort is ensuring that users are collaborating with a goal in mind. Without a goal, there is no collaboration, just a bunch of people trying to talk or write over on another on a wiki. The wiki moment happens in the space between the iteration and the accomplishment of the goal.

Creating these moments is as much a challenge for wiki solution providers such as Socialtext, Atlassian and Traction as it is for the wiki consumer. "Part of the challenge we have when we're selling and implementing wikis and driving adoption is to get people to have that wiki moment," Mayfield said.

Click here to read eWEEK's tips for a better wiki deployment.

As an example of wiki moments happening among Socialtext customers, Mayfield said software maker Angel.com began using the Socialtext wiki in 2007 to let clients leave comments, a move that he said drastically reduced the company's tech-support burden.

The opportunities for wiki moments in the enterprise are legion. Take the case of an IT manager charged with migrating a company's data over to a new domain and set of servers. Everything is humming along smoothly until users start complaining that all of their e-mail isn't making the transition. The IT manager sends staff to investigate, but they can't pinpoint the problem. The manager looks into it and find himself or herself stumped.

So the manager starts up a wiki, inviting his or her staff, who may be distributed among different offices, to debate the issue, offering screenshots and other evidence to describe the problem. Eventually, the conversation extends beyond that internal group to other tech experts. And, hopefully, this exercise will solve the problem.