Why, though I am promoting Wikis, am I writing on a blog ?

Good Question.

And as such, it deserves an in-depth explanation. To address the problem properly, some structural analysis is de rigueur.

What is a Blog ?

Basically, a blog is a web page that one person, its Admin (it might be you), creates using one of the numerous providers available on the web. After a basic setup the process is quite straightforward : you easily publish your writings and get feedback in the form of comments from other users (who can be anybody or a selected bunch of guests). The main advantages of this form of publishing are that the original contribution stays visible while the comments are ranked by date, hence making the identification of contributors and their writings easy. It fits perfectly the needs of an editor or specialist who wants to express his / her opinion on a given topic and see what other's reactions will be. You know who is thinking what at a glance.

The matter, as anyone who wandered along the path of teens (or politicians) blogs will be aware of, is that the contributions are quite ... unstructured. Two discussions may cross another on a given page, the contributions may not be all viewable on the same page, many comments are roughly related to the topic (if not irrelevant) ... To summarize, when it comes to organizing information, a blog matches very closely the perfect definition of a mess.

What Wikis bring to You

Facing a situation where you want to tap into the knowledge of a group of people, you just realized that your idea of creating a blog was ... compromised, to say the least. What are your alternatives ? You could send a global mail and hope that the respondents will answer in a coordinated manner and that their answers will complement each other. You could.

Or you may try to use a wiki. The basic difference between a wiki and a blog is that anyone you chose can edit the pages of your wiki. This means that if you show it to the right persons (and there can be plenty of them, for one would always be surprised by the unexpected resources of knowledge of even a basic crowd) and give them some time, they will come up with their point of view and aggregate it in a coherent manner to those of others. This happens in real time : one can always see what has been written prior to his / her addition, correct what he / she thinks is inexact, organize the page in order to keep it clear and readable and left it for others to participate. Some kind of an automatic correction phenomenon takes place here : as long as the writers are relatively reliable and not merely undesired spammers the very best of available information get extracted and viewable. And the process goes on. Sounds like magic ? Check any Wikipedia article and you will see information most of the time sound, structured and accessible. And the people who wrote it do not even know each other.

Uses and Misuses of Wikis

Although what has just been said about wikis gives a pretty good image of them, there is clearly situations where their use is all but recommended. The LA Times learnt it some time ago, when the paper tried to run an editorial freely editable by anyone on their website. Soon, the page was full of obscenities and even strong admin work did not manage to prevent that. It looks like wikis are weaker than expected, doesn't it ?

The correct answer to such a remark is that you do not use a duster to dry yourself, but a towel. What the journal asked was an opinion, and those can be quite fuzzy -- and disparate to say the least. Add a dose of malevolence and the result all but fails to meet expectations. There is tasks at which wikis are better than others. For example, they are more efficient when it comes to facts than to personal views. Still, their flexibility remains. Look at it this way : with people showing even a slight inclination towards ethical behaviour, it would have worked. You would have ended with a piece of material showing different opinions in a consistent way. The point is, if anyone in your company tries to destroy the work others did on a wiki, they will (almost, for every version of the page is saved for ulterior comparisons) manage to do so. But they will not think about it in the first place, for you would know that they did it. And everyone else would.

Validation by the community

This is the last feature I would like to put an emphasis on. Wiki pages are place virtually everyone can read and contribute to (if allowed). In a group such as a company, everyone has a reputation to build and protect. Writing and contributing to a corporate wiki becomes part of that, for the quality of what you write will be appreciated by everybody. So, in the context of a company, you get all the advantages : reservoir of common knowledge (the fact that Peter who knew everything about the procedure X goes on retirement matters less since he wrote extensively about it), opportunity to assess the competencies of your staff...

What should you remember ?

Fundamentally, wikis and blogs are tools that complement each other, even though you could see blogs as a mere variation on wikis. Their combined possibilities are impressive (e.g., you can work on intern with a wiki and communicate externally with your blog, which is what WikiBC is currently doing). As long as you do not use one for the other, you are sure a winner.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Are You Wiki ?

What is that supposed to be ?

Some new Internet Extravaganza ? The next nightmare you will live when your children will ask you whether they are allowed to start one ?

Internet is innovative. As you know well if you felt even a tiny amount of dejà-vu when you were reading the previous sentences, this can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, or a feeling that everything goes too fast. This is quite true. New products appear on a regular basis and keeping up to date can sometimes look like a constant struggle. And that is why the aim of this blog will be to present a new way of communicating by using IT means off expression that is more than likely to take-off widely in the years to come.

In fact, in some ways its spread has already started. Wikis are appearing in many companies and there is no surprise here, for one of the main advantages they provide is about cutting off a frenzy of unnecessary e-mails and transforming it into an useful and readily exploitable source of information.

Think about this : instead of, say, 10 of 15 mailboxes closed to each others where the same mail is present in various states of advancement, updated (- or not, for who knows whether the accountancy department did not send a mail to the management team about those marketing expenses...), put a single web page. A web page that any involved person could edit and keep relevant. Where three linked discussions are at last put in the same place. Where information flows and get available. Where you can instantly tap into the knowledge of colleagues not overloaded with emails. Where ...

Now stop thinking. This web page exists, and it is called a wiki (for the record, the name comes from an Hawaiian word meaning "quick"). You may certainly have heard of Wikipedia, the online Encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and that covers an unbelievable range of topics with an accuracy that has not yet been proved significantly faulty? You can do the same thing within the boundaries of your company. Get everyone to contribute to the common knowledge, assess the relevance of ideas, and maybe even see your reborn Intranet while you are still alive (even if it is difficult to believe, this has already happened in many societies around the world).

Do you feel interested ? The best is still to come. Wikis are the most efficient ever tools when it comes to team-working. They are hosted on an external server and necessitate nothing else that any web-browser to be accessed, which means that you can work on them from everywhere, at any time. You will not have to wonder any longer about coordinating with your team during your next week-long business trip to Sydney. Real-time means that whatever modification you make appears instantly and can be taken into account by other people.

And, last but not least, think about building consensus with your 15 mailboxes (and as much contradictory opinions) ? Here everyone can argue his position in open ground, and only those who resist the careful examination of everyone subsists (no more "sorry, I did not get your last mail" when a disastrous launch strategy is planned). Dialogue has replaced arbitrary behaviour.
And the final written piece you get is almost ready for exploitation (no new quarrels arising during the formatting process).

These are some of the most prominent features that you can expect from wikis. It might be time to start trying them, shouldn't you ?

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC