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When Wikis Won’t Work

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In the past you would remember how I have been talking about wikis over here to reflect how they are some of the most interesting and refreshing social software tools out there to help boost knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst different teams, communities and whatever other groups.

I am a big advocate of them more than anything else because of the strong capabilities they offer to help democratise the way knowledge workers get to share their knowledge with others and collaborate with one another.

However, one has got to realise that wikis may not be the ultimate solution for each and every single scenario while trying to address a specific problem. And that is exactly what Lucas McDonnell has tried to put together over at When Wikis Won’t Work: 5 Questions to Ask. Lucas references a previous blog post put together by Doug Cornelius under the title "Getting Wikis to Work" after commenting on CNN Money’s "Why Commercial Wikis Don’t Work" and which I will be talking about at some point in time. Not to worry.

The interesting thing from Lucas is that he ventures to put together five different questions that knowledge workers should ask in order to establish whether they would need to use a wiki or not. So in a way, he is already helping out folks identify whether wikis would meet their needs or not by answering those questions. To help speed things into what those questions may well be, here you have got them:

"1. Is a wiki the best technology for what I am seeking to accomplish?
2. Is my community cohesive and focused enough to be able to work together?
3. Am I asking my community to create a universal truth based on tangible facts?
4. Is my community going to be able to agree on these facts?
5. Is my community both knowledgeable and interested about the subject of the wiki?"

I must say that while I was going through the blog post, and the different questions mentioned above, there were a number of other questions that popped into my mind and which I always ask different knowledge workers, and their communities, before they would start making use of their own wiki. So I thought about creating a follow up weblog post where I could mention those additional 5 questions and make a list of 10 questions to find out whether your team or your community needs a wiki or not to help improve the already existing collaborative efforts.

Yes, that is right. This is a weblog post to indicate how despite all of the buzz and hype around wikis they may not well be your best tool after all. At least, for that particular task. Thus without much further ado, here you have got the additional five questions I would ask as well on whether people would need to have a wiki or not:

1. Does my team / community have got the necessary resources to support and facilitate the participation on the wiki?
2. Is the team / community capable of maintaining the wiki with a robust enough infrastructure?
3. Do team / community members trust each other good enough to be able to update content on top of each other’s content without risking the quality of the knowledge shared?
4. Will the team / community provide the necessary education and training materials on how to effectively make use of the wiki for that specific purpose?
5. And, finally, the killer question: can the team / community perform that task at hand with the same quality and participation using other tools than a wiki? If so, why don’t you would use whichever of those tools?

As you would be able to see, those are some questions that I get to use myself on a daily basis to help guide different knowledge workers on whether they would be ready to adopt a wiki for their daily interactions or not. One of the interesting points from those questions that I try to make time and time again is that I try not to position wikis as the killer application for whatever the scenario or whatever the purpose. Adopting social software does not necessarily mean that you would have to leave whatever you have been doing before in the past, just because someone told you that you needed to be there. Social software needs to meet a set of requirements, of needs, that the group would need to be able to fix and if the current collaboration and knowledge sharing tools do not fit in the profile, then it would be when you can starting exploring those other possibilities.

In such a way that social software tools would become an enhancement of the already existing tools suite, because after all, why would you need to give up on what you have been using already with some good results, if you can improve even more that same experience by adopting different social computing tools, right?

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