Wikis: The Next Step In Information Sharing

Contemporary education works around knowledge itself. Knowledge is often valued for itself rather than as a mean of achieving a given aim. In the same time, modern technologies give us access to more knowledge than one could ever have dreamt of decades ago. The shift is happening right now: knowledge is not the key, but rather access to the right information at the right time.

A Clever Database

A wiki is written by the very people who will be using it. A page about a given topic has many chances to contain all the relevant information about that topic since potential associations have been created by visitors to that article with the available body of knowledge. A wiki transforms raw information into a richer, more readily available and structured body of knowledge. It is an extensive and evolutive source of information. Specialised individuals can collaborate together better than ever before.

Coupled With Clever People

A wiki provides the structural through which users can collaborate and coordinate themselves easily. What is then the "perfect" user mindset? In this view, an user should be able to go and search for the information he is looking for in the rigths places rather than knowing everything by himself. Say, knowing how to access the right bookshelf rather than learning the full transcript of a book. Wikis push this trend to its limit. The relevant point is no longer in detaining knowledge itself, but in being able to draw the right connections. Individual specialization can be harnessed while minimizing its collateral negative effects.

Perfect collaboration?

The combination between intelligent users and a system that provides them with the structural basis through which tehy can interact and share together effectively open new perspectives for enterprise collaboration. The examples of Intelpedia or Pfizerpedia show how a seemingly hazardous move initiatedthe by an individual employee can bring value to the whole company. The viral nature of a wiki implies it spreading quickly. A wiki let us unleash the way we naturally tend to learn. Working together has at least found a meaning. Are you ready for this?

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Why Wikis Will Revolutionize The Way We Think About Education

I realized a few days ago that the way education is currently provided to students around the world is becoming increasingly inefficient day after day. I read some time ago a paper that stated that the only thing that has remained still for the past 100 years is the classroom. This is true and really surprising.

The Classroom Concept

What are the main benefits of getting in a classroom? Obviously, grouping people in a place where they can be taught by someone with a specific experience in one field, that this person will try to communicate to his / her audience. Another feature of current formal education is the fact that the majority of it takes place before you are 25, and then abruptly stops. Does it means that you stop learning when you quit school? Or even that you are properly equipped for the tasks you have to do? No. The education you received was not personalized either, which means that in the bundle of knowledges you had to absorb a wide part will neither be of any use to you. Why should we go toschool and Uni for years without even learning things that are of direct interest to us? Wikis change this.

Lifelong learning?

Should lifelong learning take place in classrooms? Taken broadly, we are learning at every second of our lives. Learning how to do something specific, making connexions with what we already know, thinking baout new ways of doing things... Now with a wiki all those thoughts could not only be recorded easily, but at the same time be shared in a relevant space with people who could enrich their contents and their scope significantly. You do not need to be in the same place, at the same time anylonger to share with others. Now you can create communities of people interested in the same topic and start learning from one another in minutes. Boundaries are not a necessity. Free your knowledge!

Making intangible tangible

Most learning processes take place through interactions between people, not necessarily in a formalized manner. A wiki gives a place for the fruit of these interactions to be expressed and discussed with others. Little contributions from many end up in amazing results. You can teach yourself what you are interested in with the help of others who share your passion. Rating can take place through a pari assessment that understands comprehensively what you are trying to achieve and whether you succeeded at it. Within companies, it means that constant learning and formation concerns can be addresses much more effectivelly than ever before. Information flows and you have access to it.

Education and the ability to learn continuously are currently one of the most regarded assets in business life. A wiki will give your organization the power to pursue this objective effectively. Remember the World without Wikipedia ?

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

A Wiki As An Open Point Of View On The World

A wiki lets people collectively transform a high amount of raw data into a useable and organized corpus of information. Most people have their own point of view about the world around us. Some of us even have more than one, depending on circumstances. But up to now there were no systematic way to transform those points of view into a coherent total.

Why Wikis Change This

A wiki gives a space for collaboration. Now you can get in one place all the content relevant to a given topic. With the help of Widgets you can now integrate content coming from various places and put it one one page. Our brain work by making associations between neurons. Now on a wiki we can all create relationships between bits of content and enrich them by linking them together easily, tagging them and retrieving their up-to-date content via RSS Syndication.

The Quest For Meaning

When searching on the internet, we are most of the time looking for an answer. Search engines are great, but sometimes do not turn up with the right answer. The same is true to a greater extent within companies: intranet are not meant to be easily searchable. The likes of Google Mini are starting to changing this, but even them cannot do more than automated search. The greatest benefit of a wiki in this context is that it lets people group relevant informaion together on one page (or set of pages).

Being Relevant

On a wiki, you can decide to give one page to every topic. This page will be enriched will all the content related to this topic. It will retrieve information from various different sources and be available at anytime, from anywhere. More than a reference sheet, the page will also be coherent: the content you will find on it is directly related to its title. Other potential meanings are listed and given pages on their own. How is that different from internet ? A wiki provides a place where information is classified following the needs of its very own users, where they can have a direct influence on every page. This is what 2-ways interaction means.

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

9 Corporate Wiki Starting Tips

There has been some buzz running lately on various tech blogs, regarding the best ways to get "social-enterprise" tools adopted faster and more easily. When it comes to wikis, various tips and tricks are suggested (amongst which my favourite is "if you don not want to end up disappointed, do not start") but there is room left for another list. At least this is what I will be arguing by doing in the following.

Get Things Off To A Good Start
  • Give your wiki a soul: this may look like an odd advice, particularly in a corporate setting, but it is maybe the most important one could ever give you. Think about any successful project you lead: which one did not include the strong sense of a shared purpose? Starting a wiki makes no exception.
  • Refer to the wiki: if you actually expect your people to go and use the wiki, make is as well known as possible. Encourage its adoption through an intensive internal referral campaign. Clearly stating that you will not read any attachment which has not been uploaded on a wiki page is a good idea to begin with.
  • Do not start from scrap: asking people to actually edit pages instead of only reading them is a concept weird enough to get to grasp with, do not add the burden of having to create your own pages (at least at the beginning). Think about putting most of the currently available material on the wiki and even start stubs for pages you feel like they deserve one.

Help Your People

  • Train them: there is some hype going around, which basically says "one should be able to use any piece of software without training". ... How many hours have you spent figuring out how to use less than 10% of MS Excel potential? A wiki is not complicated to use, but one should always remember this does not mean that everybody was born knowing what to do with one. In fact, most people were not.
  • Provide fast and relevant help: the one thing more annoying that a software that you cannot get to work properly is a software that you cannot get to work properly without knowing why. Whenever something does not go as well as expected, provide a resourceful help center. One that actually knows what your wiki software is, for example.
  • Listen to your users: elementary? Yes. Done? ... When it comes to a new technology adoption, providing more support than necessary is a necessity. Feedback is always useful: it tells you what actually does not not work and makes user feel they are listened to. Tip: if you decide to take action from these premises, it is even better.

Keep The Wiki Going

  • Go through the "start effect": after the buzz and enthusiasm following the launch of your corporate wiki, an after-shock state is likely to happen some way or another. This includes the 3-days period when no ones writes anything and the "what's new" page looks like your fridge. Do not be afraid to wait a little, things need time to get on the right track.
  • Hire a "wiki gardener": during the beginning, information will be added in places seemingly chosen randomly on the wiki. To sort things out and give coherence to the whole, consider assigning this task as a mission to somebody. It will make a huge difference if the wiki can be browsed easily.
  • Find out why this generic checklist did not work for your company: this would be my last reminder: every company is different, and implementing a coprporate wiki will hence trigger problems that are quite different too (depending on your enterprise culture, work habits and management staff...). Find out how a wiki could work for you, not how it ought to work for somebody else.

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

PS: For those of you who wonder why I stopped at 9 rather than going all the way to 10, it is mostly because I felt like 10 was too short to provide enough advice on the topic.

My Desktop Is My Wiki

Wondering about what my next post would be about, I realized that I was using my wiki in a way that could be worth testing by some other people. Basically, it is about gathering all my sources of information in one place, creating links between them and tagging pages, too. There is a blog to keep my customers up-to-date about market news. Add the fact that I can access my hosted wiki from anywhere and it looks pretty much like the perfect solution for a consultant.

Gathering Information

On of the most important aspects when you are an independant consultant is to be able to process loads of information coming from a great number of places and transform it into valuable pieces of advice. In order to do so, I use a RSS feed reader embedded in one of the pages of my wiki. My three other e-mail accounts have their pages, too and I can access them directly through wiki pages. Whenever I find something interesting, I can add it to an existing page or create a page specifically for it (eg, I have a specific page for every key corporate wiki company). Somewhat like a private Wikipedia...

Creating Relationships

Then the next step is all about creating relevant links between the various topics I may have encountered. I link people to the companies they work for, I assess trends on pages and link to the individuals that took a prominent part in them. I create tags to label all the pieces of information I will have to use in order to carry out one of my projects properly. The wiki backlinks feature always lets me know where I come from while the integrated search engine makes the retrieval of information obvious. Then, once information is stored, broken in manageable chunks and classified, I use the calendar to keep a track of what I have to do and whether I made progress.

Communicating With My Partners

While I am working on a given project, I open its dedicated space to my clients so that we can work collaboratively and exchange information easily through attached files. I discovered recently that I could display MS Office documents (such as PowerPoint Presentations) directly in wiki pages after saving them in html, and this is simply great. My clients do not have to open attached files any longer to find out what they deal with since their contents are displayed direclty on the page. I can export wiki pages in PDF too, and this is often useful to send bits of data in e-mails. Last but not least: I get a RSS feed from any tag I want, which is quite useful when it comes to following specific projects.

Basically, I can get all my information from wherever I am, provided an internet access is available. And guess what? I have not forgotten a file for a long time by now...

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Wikis And Contemporay Trends In Human Resources Development

About all of the world highly-developed countries boast a service-based economy. This means that western companies' most valuable asset is their skilled worforce. Investing in people's talent is maybe the soundest strategy ever - yet few enterprises are actually doing so. How could wikis help reverse the trend ?

The Wiki Way Of Doing Thing

The central tenet in the way wikis work can be summed-up in one word: collaboration. Wikis encourage people's participation through their mechanism of easy page edition. They foster collective creativity by letting people create a coherent result from many small, individual additions. By the very way they work, using wikis in your company is a testimonial to your staff that you believe in their potential.

Empowering People

One of the most tricky issues enterprises are faced with is the matter of life-long learning. How do you get your staff to keep itself up-to-date and aware of a constantly-moving business environment ? A wiki offers an elegant solution to this question : first, it provides a place where information that would have otherwise disappeared can be stored. Working in a Wikipedia-like manner, inside your company, a wiki can offer a base for shared knowledge amongst workers. Second, a wiki is user-enriched; from this follows that all the little bits of knowledge that are spread amongst employees can at last find a place to be expressed. More information available for a responsabilized staff: this is what wikis can do.

Providing Flexibility And Freedom

Another important evolution taking place inside the corporate world is the shift towards an increased place given to part-time and remote working. Wikis provide a useful and easy to use tool when it comes to coordinating the work of people working from different places, at different times. By providing a durable place where information can be added and structured, a wiki allow your company to provide its staff with more opportunities. Let them work when it is easier for thel to and see the global productivity of your company boosted.

What should you remember ? It is, basically
That modern HR trends are going through wiki.

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

A Wiki To Get Customer Feedback

Ever dreamt of a place where the people who buy your products could tell you what they actually think about them ? A place that would help you increase customer satisfaction, enlighten consumer needs and give the market what it is looking for ?

How could that work ?

The rationale behind such a wiki goes as follow : first, a wiki is a place where people can easily share and discuss information. What's more, people are always lookig for a place where they could tell brands what they think about what they are doing - and find out what others say, too. A wiki would provide your brand with an interactive place of reference for customers looking for more than usual corporate websites.

Ever thought a FAQ was not enough ?

Most users of your products do not know that they could use it for much more than what they currently do. Just think about iTunes : how many interesting features are you not using ? A wiki would let you create an interactive FAQ wher people could share tips about what can be done with your products, and give your company more space to build clever FAQ and how-to. The era of the notice silent about the very point you are wondering about just vanished.

Collaborative Product Design

The last part of this evolution could take the form of a wiki where engineers could suggest new products and instantly get feedback from potential clients. Designing specifications with the help of actual end-users : what better way to keep in touch with the market requirements ? Your customers could be your greatest fans, just let them express themselves !


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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Wikis And Clusters Of Competitiveness

Clusters of competitiveness are growing in popularity all around the world as a way to organize industrial actors in an effective way. They allow the creation of pool where resources are available for companies to pursue their operations in a driving environment. In order to make the most out of clusters, using a wiki to share information and knowledge between members is more than a sound idea : it is the next move on your agenda.

A cluster is a men's adventure

Rather than anything else, a successful cluster is a geographic zone where like-minded people can share, exchange and interact. A cluster by itself provides no more than an environment for business contacts, a pool of skilled workers, good communication structures... It's up to its members to make it live up to a successful venture rather than a failed attempt. To sustain human interactions in the context of a cluster, using a wiki is more than relevant.

How a Wiki could help Your Cluster

The fact is, most spoken information is lost on the rather short term. Even piles of e-mail do not end up in organized, searchable chunks of information. Using a wiki would allow companies to put all the untold information in one place and interact with it. Imagine an evolutive repository of companies, people, projects where information is kept up to date by those who have to rely on it to get things done : members. Then add a layer of collaborative tools and feeds to keep in touch with what is happening and you get a good idea of what a wiki could bring your cluster.

Does this really make sense ?

Just think about all the stuff you think about in one given day that could lead to great ventures, but is lost for it lacks a place to be expressed. Then think about what would happen if you could share this with the people who fit best your own profile : the other guys from your cluster. This place could exist, if only you took the step of creating a wiki. You could start one for a groupwork, an then extend it to see what is happening. But beware : if you taste it, you will never feel the same.

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

The Bottle In The Sea Model

Some companies have decided to fight against the Paper-Plane Model (described below). They took a brave step : they decided to implement a Content Management System (CMS) ! This allowed them to switch from a system where e-mails are everywhere to another where information is centralized ... but no one actually goes through it.

The Model

In the Bottle-In-The-Sea Model, people put their files and documents in a centralized space where they are supposedly able to access and work on it easily. In practice however, most of this content is sunk somewhere and not seen by anyone. Although one may keep track of the last 10 documents, he is soon lost in version revision history. Content is there but ease of use nowhere.

Why does it work this way ?

The problem with CMS systems is that information is in a raw format, without structure. Although you can find about anything somewhere, you will not understand what are the connexions between the pieces of information you will find. This is due to the fact that CMS are built as repositories, not as user-friendly softwares.

Let me guess ... A wiki ?

The main advantage of a wiki over a CMS is that it allows you to give added value to the content you enter in the system. People can work directly on the page to which a document is attached. You know what your document is, in what context it should be understood. Research results are better too. Now you know what the data you found relates to. Not only do you have data, now you have meaning too.

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© Guillaume Lerouge for
WikiBC

The Paper - Plane Model

Communication in contemporary enterprises often looks like a darts game : I throw mine, and hope it will reach its target. The matter is, you hit the center only from times to times and all the remaining darts are quite unuseful. How does this relates to communication inside enterprises ? Just think about the way you are using e-mail. How many of those you receive are direclty relevant to you ?

The Paper-Plane Model

This model summarizes the point made before. It describes how, in companies, communication solutions (and specifically e-mail) are used to throw paper -planes containing data in many directions, hoping that something will come back from all these efforts. Paper is everywhere, information nowhere. Requests for contents are not organized in any coherent way as every individual tries to creates its own database with sent and received planes. The question is, why does this happen ?

Underlying Factors

All this has to do with the way people share texts and documents through e-mail. The ease of use of the application let everybody free to add copied recipients, to send uninformative messages, and so on. Every request generates a new message, even though the query may have been previously answered somewhere. Ever had this feeling of déjà-vu when you received a "new" question ? There is no central repository for the contents already created that could be browsed to retrieve information. But then, does a solution exist to solve this problem ?

A Solution Through Wikis

A wiki offers a good way of escaping the paper-plane model. It provides a centralized space where information can be added and modified easily by users. What's more, this space can be easily browsed through an integrated search engine. All your information is in the same place, always available and up to date. The number of planes is highly reduced, and the ones still in use carry more relevant information. Their content is progressively integrated into a database of all available knowledge in your company. Move on from the paper - plane model, go Wiki !

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© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC