Monday, January 30, 2006

Wikis and Content Management -more confusion or the end of confusion?

On a typical workday, quarter of the team is chasing documents down, one quarter is furiously working to making sure version control guidelines are being followed while preparing for the status meeting, one quarter is passing outdated versions of the same documents out and the final "smart" quarter is quietly following the new revolution in business !!

Document management is a nightmare in most organizations. No one is quite sure of the most current version, people who are working on a particular section take a break, meeting notes are stored on someone's PC, hard drives crash, intranets are not updated and on and on. Most organizations do have some sort of content management solution in place, but nothing seems to work. Either the solution in place is too technical for employees to use or the solution is too simplistic to offer anything of value. Often, the solution is not a true solution at all, because it is not available outside the company domain to work on.

In such a scenario, blogging and wikis are making their presence know. Together, they form a deadly duo, collaboration software that solves all the problems listed above, yet, unlike many traditional content management systems, remain simple enough for non-technical employees to use and yet with minor tweaking can serve as a full blown content management system.

Wiki.org defines wiki as the "simplest online database that could possibly work". Named after wiki-wiki, the Hawaiian word for quick, wikis are essentially Web pages that anyone--or at least anyone with permission--can create or edit. The best known example of a wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is written and maintained by anyone who feels like it. Wikis have an in-built governance system which allows others to roll back the edited page to the way it was before or edit the page further. This ensures that the quality of the content remains high. In a corporate environment, wikis are best implemented behind a firewall for a wholly internal user base. Several project teams have set up their own wikis.

Why Wiki?
Thanks to the Web, and networks in general, the cost of publishing and sharing information has diminished substantially, which makes wikis the killer app for companies. Before wikis, an expensive enterprise application would have been necessary to achieve the same level of information management. Now, because most wikis are based on open-source code, they're free for companies that opt for an open-source distribution, or relatively cheap for companies willing to pay for implementation and support.

Wikis are designed to facilitate the exchange of information within and between teams. Their power comes from the fact that content can be updated without any real lag, administrative effort, or need for distribution; users simply visit and update a common Web site.

Wikis can centralize all types of business data, such as spreadsheets, Word documents, and PowerPoint slides--anything that can be displayed in a browser. They can also embed various standard communications media such as E-mail and instant messaging. Heavy-duty PHP-based wikis can directly interface with company databases to bring in audio and picture files. The functionality of a wiki is limited only by the programming skills of the person who implements and maintains it.

Almost equally important, wikis have built-in version control. No change can be made without creating a record of who made those changes, and reversion to an earlier version is a matter of a few clicks.

It's important to note that placing a document in a wiki doesn't necessarily make it editable by anyone and everyone with access to the wiki. For example, the marketing department can make a PowerPoint slide available to the sales team or the company at large without letting them change or overwrite it. This ability to make documents editable or not at the owner's discretion makes wikis a uniquely flexible means of information management.

There's a plethora of project-management and collaboration software available, so why use a wiki instead?
Wikis are cheap, extensible, and easy to implement, and they don't require a massive software rollout. They also interface well with existing network infrastructures. Wiki software maker Socialtext Inc., for instance, has concentrated on making its platform work with existing global identification and registration systems behind company firewalls.
Furthermore, wikis are web-based and thus prevent little or no learning curve in the adoption cycle, and they allow the user to determine the relevancy of content rather than being dependent upon a central distribution center or a linear distribution chain. After the initial set-up, users, not administrators, control a wiki, to the benefit of the entire project team.
A major benefit of the many wikis is their ability to organize themselves organically. In other words, users can create their own web site structure, rather than have it imposed on them by the developers of content management software.

Several organizations have extended wikis (Wikis are mainly open source, so are highly extensible) to enable blogging type features, chat boards, discussion forums and a host of simple to use knowledge management tools. Wikis are powerful not by themselves, but when clubbed with other tools like blogs, it just takes on a new shape.

One of the fundamental challenges to all companies is to ensure that information flows through and between groups with as little delay as possible. A wiki is a highly effective means of handling this task. It turns document management into something that can be easily tuned to users' sensibilities rather than pre-conceived notions imposed by the developers of content management software.
Content management packages will likely be around for the foreseeable future, but they will be under increasing pressure from wiki type solutions and extensions made for wikis. As is evidenced by the enterprise wide wiki deployments, content management is likely to hybridize with the wiki into a new, more robust application that combines the strengths of both tools.

2 Comments:

Blogger Tarit said...

Great post !

2/03/2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger The Greatest Hokie Ever !! said...

[Tarit] Thanks for the comment and thanks for dropping by !!

2/09/2006 10:26 AM  

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