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Because they're simple enough for nontechnical employees to use, wikis are set to give content-management software a run for its money.
Furthermore, wikis are Web-based and thus present little or no learning curve in the adoption cycle, and they allow the user to determine the relevance of content rather than being dependent on a central distribution center or a linear distribution chain.
A major benefit of many wikis is their ability to organize themselves organically. In other words, users can create their own site structure, or ontology, rather than have it imposed on them by the developers of content-management software. That said, wikis need to be used by people with a shared cultural language so that the ontology and navigation they create is understandable to everybody.
Finally, it's the inherently collaborative nature of wikis, as opposed to the workflow structure of content-management software, that distinguishes wikis and gives them the upper hand. A traditional project-management tool simply cannot reproduce the environment of collaboration and involvement that wikis create. After the initial setup, users, not administrators, control a wiki, which benefits both administrators and users. In short, wikis bring the distributive power of the Web to bear on the notoriously onerous task of information management.
So, which companies actually use wikis? Wikis have found their greatest initial success in a few specific areas of the business landscape that require heavy doses of content management, such as project management and spec control.
According to a survey of 73 companies by newsletter publisher and consulting firm the Gilbane Report, it's mostly small businesses (those with less than $25 million in revenue) that are experimenting with wiki technology. That's no surprise, given the software's affordability and ease of implementation. However, several large companies have deployed wikis as well.
Nokia Corp. has been using Socialtext wiki software for a year and a half to facilitate information exchange within its Insight & Foresight group. Yahoo Inc. 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. "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," writes Jean-Noel Simonnet of Michelin China's IT department.
Cingular, Disney, Kodak, Motorola, and SAP also use wikis.
What are these folks doing that the L.A. Times couldn't or didn't? Two things distinguish these implementations from the Times flop: They're behind company firewalls and for official use only. As would be expected, this significantly reduces the likelihood of misuse. And, 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.
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 preconceived notions imposed by the developers of content-management software.
Content-management packages aren't going anywhere, but they'll be under increasing pressure from wikis. As is evidenced by the enterprise wikis 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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