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Innovating into the new year: Wiki Key Areas for Business to foucs on

January 7, 2009

Managing a successful wiki requires skills in a wide variety of areas, including design, group facilitation, individual psychology, and information management. A wiki’s ease of use belies its inherent complexity. If you’re considering starting a wiki, first explore the following questions and issues.
Management Resources

Wikis need time—a lot of it. You’ll need a dedicated person or team to generate enthusiasm, clean up misformatted writings, and keep a vigilant eye on spammers and vandals. As mentioned earlier, this person is often called a wiki gardener, and spends most of the day tending to the wiki, weeding out inappropriate content, and providing sustenance to contributors. Ensure that this person has enough time to garden every day.

Characteristics of Contributors and Subject Matter

Who are your wiki’s core users? Are they passionate about the subject matter that you want to address? If so, perhaps there’s a preexisting group or individual that you can convince to lead your wiki effort. Wikis often work best among small groups of known individuals. For this reason, corporate wikis are becoming popular.

Rewards and Group Dynamics

Set up the wiki so that it rewards people for sharing their knowledge. Contributors are motivated by social reinforcement: they want to know that their contributions are read and valued. Be clear about how contributors will be recognized. Consider setting up a prominent wiki page that features contributors, with links to their writings. Your wiki gardener can manage this process.

Also ask yourself how you are going to handle disagreements or fights between contributors. Make clear from the start the rules governing how differences of opinion will be resolved. You may also consider designating someone as a greeter or mentor. This person welcomes new contributors or guides their efforts over time.

Competition

What benefit will your wiki provide over Wikipedia? Are you offering depth in a niche subject area? Are there competing wikis in this area? Unless you’ve got a preexisting group of people dedicated to your wiki, it may be difficult to drive traffic to it. Without traffic and constant activity, a wiki appears listless and uninteresting.

Vandalism and Spam

Develop a strategically aligned spam and vandalism plan. The creators of abbottsgreed.com didn’t want anyone from Abbott Laboratories to weaken the language of their claims, and so used a strict user account mechanism. All contributors need to be approved by the wiki gardener. The Autism wiki, in contrast, allows anyone to edit. The creators want to encourage participation and are less concerned about vandals.
Cultural Fit

Are people in your organization comfortable editing a public document? Many organizations launch their wiki only to find that employees are wary of communicating in an unpolished format. Contributing to your organization’s wiki may require a shift in the structure of work, as participation cuts across the existing hierarchy. Is your organization comfortable with these changes? Think about appointing an evangelist to promote wiki usage and to train new users. Most people will not understand how to use a wiki or maintain it. They will need hand holding.
Information Design

Poor information design is the number one wiki killer. Out of the box, most wiki software sets you up for failure. The navigational structure of a wiki is determined, in part, by contributors, and these people are not students of library sciences. They don’t know how to create clear, consistent, and intuitive navigation from one piece of information to another. The result is a tangle of pages, links, and dead ends.

To learn more about wiki tactics and strategies, turn to http://www.wikipatterns.com

Vitality

You have two options for addressing the problem. (1) Train your wiki gardener in information design. A wizened and attentive gardener can solve a lot of problems that contributors create. (2) Choose the software that offers the best user experience. You’ll get an instant sense of a system’s ease of use as you explore a few examples of wikis made with your software of choice. Visit this book’s Web site to see several examples. A wiki that confuses you or obscures your information will fulfill few of your objectives.

Unused wikis sink quickly into obscurity. Many of the problems I’ve already outlined lead to disuse: poor design, too much spam, lack of maintenance, lack of community support, and too little social reinforcement. If you address these issues effectively, you’ll stand a much better chance of creating a vibrant, frequently used, and valuable wiki.

To give your wiki a boost, incorporate it into your broader organizational activities. Create an outreach or advertising campaign to drive traffic to it. Invite community members to become contributors.

Other Uses for Wikis

Some of the most interesting ways to use wikis are not related to recruiting, organizing, or engaging youth. However, they’re worth noting, as they may be of use in your organization, professional career, or personal life:

* Conference documentation. Many conferences document the proceedings on a wiki. A designated person posts notes to the wiki at the end of each session. Usually a wiki gardener cleans up the notes at the end of each day, while the ideas are still fresh.
* Improving internal coordination. Many organizations use wikis to coordinate internal teams and projects. The wiki offers an easy way to track to-do lists, decisions, meeting notes, and reference materials. Using a wiki can also cut down on e-mail. Most organizations find that a designated wiki facilitator is crucial.
* Personal thinking space. Some people find that a wiki helps organize their thoughts. They write notes, upload photos and documents, and use it like an online notepad. The advantage of the wiki over a pad of paper is that it’s shareable, searchable, and difficult to lose.

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