How To Use Wikis For Business

Content management systems will always have their place in the publishing world, but they've never been the best tools for business collaboration. A simple open-source app called the wiki may soon rule the knowledge management roost.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 5, 2005

4 Min Read

Where The Wikis Are

So, what companies are actually using wikis? Wikis have found their greatest initial success in a few specific areas of the corporate landscape that require heavy doses of content management, such as project management and spec control.

According to a Gilbane survey of 73 companies, it's mostly small businesses (those with less than $25 million in revenues) that are experimenting with wiki technology. That's no surprise, given the software's affordability and ease of implementation. However, several large enterprises have successfully deployed wikis as well.

Nokia has been using Socialtext wiki software for a year and a half to facilitate information exchange within its Insight & Foresight group. Yahoo uses Twiki software to help its development team overcome the problems associated with working from a variety of separate locations. Michelin China also uses Twiki as a knowledge management tool. Jean-Noel Simonnet, from the company's IT department, writes, "Our purpose was to share ALL the information, procedures, setup documents, so that we were less dependent on a particular staff member knowledge, so that nobody in the team has any document left in a personal directory."

Kodak, Cingular, Disney, Motorola, and SAP are also among the notable companies with wiki success stories.

Content management is likely to hybridize with the wiki into a new, more robust application that combines the strengths of both tools.

What are these folks doing that the L.A. Times could or did not? Two things distinguish these successful implementations from the Times flop: They are behind company firewalls and for official use only. As would be expected, this significantly reduces the likelihood of misuse, and ensures that the wiki is a tool rather than a playground. In other words, in order to be of value to the corporate community, a wiki needs to comprise a set of internal documents, an intraweb that can be maintained by its users from within a browser.

Wiki Tools

Leading the charge of enterprise wiki solutions are Atlassian, JotSpot, and Socialtext.

JotSpot was started by the co-founders of Excite and is a cross between a wiki and a database. JotSpot was built from scratch and is not open-source, but is free to use by open-source projects. By offering additional features such as forms and integration with external data, JotSpot is able to overcome the issue of wikis being essentially limited to handling text documents.

Socialtext is based on the open-source Kwiki software and has managed to land some powerhouse clients like Nokia and Ziff-Davis. The company even ships a standalone appliance with the software preinstalled.

Atlassian Software's enterprise wiki is called Confluence. Atlassian's codebase is composed almost exclusively of open-source libraries, and like JotSpot and SocialText, the company contributes to the open-source community and open-source projects may freely use its code. Although its software packages are not strictly open source, Atlassian does provide licensees with the source code.

On the strictly open-source/non-commercial front, there are several major players:

  • Tikiwiki has an editorial engine for submitting, editing and approving article submissions as well as a workflow project management system.

  • Twiki can be expanded dramatically with server-side plug-in modules that allow for specific handling of functions like calendars, spreadsheets, RSS, barcodes, and so on.

  • Zwiki offers a plug-in WYSIWYG HTML editor called Epoz that supports all the major browsers.

  • Perspective is popular with some large companies and seems to be the wiki many big businesses get their feet wet with first.

Each of these wiki distributions has its own pros and cons, but each is a stable and functional package right out of the box. Which one you choose will depend upon your budget, the features that matter to you, and your IT department's ability to implement and maintain it.

Watch Out For Wikis

One of the fundamental challenges to all companies is to ensure that information flows through and between groups with as little decay 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 preconceived 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 wikis. As is evidenced by the enterprise wikis currently on the market, content management is likely to hybridize with the wiki into a new, more robust application that combines the strengths of both tools. Watch for wikis or wiki hybrids to appear in your workplace before long.

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