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