The wiki, which takes its name from the Hawaiian word for “fast,” is a type of computer software that allows users to edit and link Web pages. As most readers already know, the most famous wiki is Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia that has millions of contributing writers.
Yet, according to a recent article in INC magazine, one of the reasons wikis in general have not taken off is partially due to the success of Wikipedia. Why start up a corporate wiki when there’s already a perfectly good one that’s recognizable, free and easy to use?
But that will likely change this year: According to a Gartner forecast, 50 percent of U.S. corporations will have implemented wikis by 2009. And they’ll only grow in interest as more “Net generation” employees enter your company.
Workers who are 30 years old or younger are accustomed to Web 2.0 communication tools. According to a 2005 Pew study, almost half of teenagers prefer to chat with friends via instant messaging rather than e-mail. And last year, comScore reported that teen e-mail use was down 8 percent, compared with a 6 percent increase in e-mailing for users of all ages. In the same way, they are used to the wiki.
MWW Group, a midsized public relations firm, recently deployed wikis as a way of better managing PR projects, tracking real-time news updates and facilitating communications with clients. Benefits were realized in three ways:
1. Reduced time spent on e-mail, as the wiki allowed group editing and saved employees from sending hundreds of back-and-forth
2. Better and faster real-time collaboration among employees.
3. A new knowledge base for market intelligence data.
There are some pitfalls to avoid. You have to keep sensitive and proprietary data off the wiki, particularly if it’s a public system. Ensure that this information doesn’t find its way to competitors or customers by having clear, concise guidelines for wiki policies and best practices.
Some companies, such as Sun Microsystems, are leading the way in this area. In fact, the entire Sun policy regarding wikis is posted on the company’s corporate Web site. These guidelines allow Sun employees to get involved in collaborating with peers without fear of endangering their career at the company.
These policies include:
• Have an employee as a moderator: Wikis
at Sun need to be moderated by a Sun employee who responds to ongoing decisions and questions that impact the wiki. The moderator must remember that the wiki is owned by the community and must resist controlling it. A moderator should try to guide and nurture instead of command and control.
• Use caution in the content you post: Sun policy reminds employees that content posted to a wiki is public and is not secure. Therefore, if the content requires a nondisclosure agreement or is considered private, it should not be published on a wiki.
• Avoid posting financials: Sun employees are cautioned not to publish data about revenues, product road maps, product shop dates or share price. These might seem simple enough, but employees need clear reminders and policy guidelines.
•Do not share secrets about your job: While it is fine to share topics of interest at work, publishing secrets about Sun products is not allowed.
• Think about the consequences of your actions: Sun employees need to use good judgment and avoid emotionally laden descriptions that embarrass the company, its customers or any co-worker.
Although there are clear advantages to using wikis, proceed with caution with deployment by developing unambiguous policies and creating a strong business case.