Lots of attention has been paid to blogging and its relation to traditional media. But I’ve been more interested in blogging as a quick-and-dirty enterprise knowledge management tool for internal use. At InfoWorld (U.S.), an intranet blog in my own IT department has become the hub of our documentation activities.
Blogs are not the only collaboration game in town, though. Recently, I decided to bone up on the concept of the Wiki, a collaborative environment that is gaining traction in corporations. In fact, your employees might already be Wiki-ing without your knowledge. Despite its whimsical name, the underhyped Wiki concept could become one of the more useful and easy-to-implement tools in your IT management arsenal.
According to Wikipedia — a Wiki itself — a Wiki is a Web site that allows any user to add content, but also allows that content to be edited by any other user more easily than a blog. The term “Wiki” can also be used to refer to the software used to drive a Wiki.
I recently spent some time with an excellent Wiki guide: Peter Theony, the developer of TWiki, a widely used open source Wiki implementation. Peter developed TWiki in the late ’90s in a classic moment of “scratch the itch” software development. He had been hired by a company to be an engineering manager but a reorg detoured him into a support manager role. In that role, he needed to build a dynamic knowledge base for customer support and he found the concept of the Wiki as a knowledge base platform intriguing.
Thus TWiki was born and several years later, it is being actively and enthusiastically used as the platform for everything from document management to project planning and corporate knowledge bases at corporations as varied as Disney, Yahoo, British Telecom, and SAP AG. TWiki.org publishes detailed case studies of these organizations with gushing testimonials from employees who gladly publish their names and job titles. This is clearly the real deal.
Superficially, the Wiki concept is scary to many CIOs and CTOs. The hallmarks of the Wiki environment — organic, easy to change by anyone, constantly evolving, aggressively open, unstructured — are a far cry from the relative rigidity of more traditional knowledge management systems.
When we started blogging IT documentation internally at InfoWorld, there was an explosion of documentation not because of the novelty of blogging (frankly, documentation just isn’t fun), but because the documentation was easy to create and people were able to quickly realize the benefits of knowledge-sharing. The Wiki environment is even more informal than blogging, but what you lose in fine-grained control, you gain in information flow.
After my conversation with Peter, I was psyched up to give TWiki a spin, so I logged into our intranet server planning to set TWiki up and check it out. Guess what? It had already been installed months ago by our IT manager. I took this as yet another reason that I needed to pay attention.
Worthwhile IT innovation is nearly always a bottom-up affair. If you were a naysayer about the Internet, Linux, or even Weblogs, embracing the Wiki might be your chance to beat your staffers to the punch at last.
Chad Dickerson is CTO of InfoWorld.