How can the wiki culture change your business

Sep 03 2013

It is generally accepted that modern technologies can help make your business more efficient by allowing information to easily spread inside the company, as well as be more accessible to all collaborators. However there are many methods to achieve this and they have very different effects on how the company culture evolves and, in the end, on which results the company can expect.

In a series of articles, entitled "How can the wiki culture change your business" I would like to share our experience with advanced wiki technologies used in the enterprise context and how these technologies have changed the company culture for the better. The fact is there are many things to learn from how wikis have transformed the communities and the organizations using them and how to apply this for the benefits of enterprises.

Here is the plan I will be following (make sure you save the link to this article, since we will be updating it):

  1. First a little background on Wikis
  2. Wikis in enterprises
  3. What is the wiki culture and what does it mean for enterprises?
  4. The benefits of the wiki culture
  5. How to start with the wiki culture
  6. Do tools matter for the wiki culture?

First a little background on wikis

Here is the first article of our series "How wiki culture can change your business." Before getting into the details, we will be offering a brief introduction to the history of the wiki and the benefits of using this tool!

The first wiki

The wiki concept was invented by Ward Cunningham in 1995 when he was looking for a way to build a community for sharing experience on good development patterns.
He designed the "most simple tool" which would achieve this goal. The key concept was pages that were freely editable to all participants with a system to easily create links from one page to another.
One of the key elements was that the link is created before the page and once the "save" button is clicked all content is instantly published without any approval process.

After the creation of the first wiki by Ward Cunningham, for which the code was made open source, other developers have created their own wiki software, improving and adding additional possibilities, but keeping the key concepts at the heart of the software.

Wikipedia

The wiki concept has been popularized by the creation of Wikipedia which had the objective of creating an encyclopedia of human knowledge using the wiki concept. In less than 10 years, Wikipedia killed the business of written or CDROM Encyclopedias created by experts and became one of the top 10 visited web sites around the world.
Today many Google searches will have as the top results a Wikipedia page. It has been an immense success, despite all criticism from "experts" on the quality of the Wikipedia content. It's been the proof that a community of many individuals contributing small pieces of work can beat a limited team of highly skilled individuals working full time.

While the Wikipedia experience cannot be applied as is for enterprises, there are many things to learn from it. Particularly, here are two important aspects that are important from my point of view:

  1. The success of Wikipedia is not about the size of each individual's contribution, but the opposite. It's about each individual bringing a little piece of his knowledge and combining it with the previous content. When sharing information, on a short time span, it might look like the bigger the contribution the better it is, but contributions don't add up like numbers. It's all about how contributions can be combined to become something bigger and of higher value. Two big Word documents will hardly be something you can combine easily, while progressively adding small pieces of content to an existing document will allow this combination to happen. It is important to note that what is obvious for the world's knowledge is also true inside an enterprise: no individual has all the knowledge.
  2. The quality of the end result is not only about the words in each page's content, but also about the organization of the content in the page and the links between the pages. A big part of the value of Wikipedia is the "organization of the information", which was also crowd-sourced.

This is particularly important in the enterprise context, when we compare wikis with social networks or document management systems. The later tools do not allow to work efficiently and collaboratively on information organization, which leads to very poor results in terms of navigability of the information.

So, does this apply to enterprises? We'll investigate it in the second article.

Ludovic Dubost
President & Founder