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The Wiki Effect

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InternetWeek and InformationWeek have a good in-depth article on enterprise wikis.

It includes interviews with Socialtext customers Nokia and Angel.com, discusses acquisition and adoption strategies, changing corporate culture and the “wiki effect.”

Some excerpts:

At Nokia, the first wiki was brought in as an experiment by the Corporate Strategy team without consulting the IT department. Stephen Johnston, our contact in the department, told us, “After installing it we were told that it was probably against company policy.” According to Johnston, resistance from the IT team stemmed from misgivings about overhead costs, the delegation of control to users, and the fear that wikis were a fad. However, the wiki (built on an open-source platform) quickly proved to be an effective means of saving time and effort previously dedicated to the task of distributing and storing corporate intelligence.

Johnston says wikis have proliferated within Nokia since the initial test. The company has purchased 200 seats [Ross: the real number is far greater, but I don't have approval to share it right now] of Socialtext, and four wikis, on both open-source and proprietary platforms, are being used by between 1,000 and 1,500 employees. As a result of the wikis’ success, Nokia has agreed to fund and support a companywide wiki as well as a host of other collaborative tools. A skunkworks, or new technology project team, has also been established “to provide new tools such as wikis within days to business groups that ask to test new tools,” says Johnston…

The wiki ran for several years on a Linux box under the desk of Sam Aparicio, Vice President of Products and Strategy at Angel.com. When it became clear that the wiki was a stable and functional tool, the company moved to Socialtext’s hosted wiki to minimize the burden on the IT team…

Because wikis are designed for collaboration, forcing their use is contrary to their nature. Instead, wikis are most successful when they are allowed to grow from a grass-roots effort. The value of wikis, says Angel.com’s Aparicio, becomes clear through exposure to the tool and its benefits. It is in the interest of everyone who needs access to the knowledge held in a wiki to participate and maintain a presence.

I found the observation of the “wiki effect” insightful: What is most compelling about wikis is how they can induce very similar behaviors in very different environments: They are able to normalize the way information and intelligence move around corporate systems, regardless of their size.

Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.

The Wiki Effect
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