Before wikis existed and the Internet was still a newborn, only the select few had the power to publish content online. Tools for making the publishing process easier and easier proliferated, from personal websites to forums to blogs. Eventually everyone could get their word out there fairly easily — but in the end it just created more and more sprawl.
But then something interesting happened — the idea of a website that everyone could build together. Instead of everyone building their own site, how about we all work on a single site together? The wiki was born.
This new idea still seemed ridiculous to a lot of people, and still does to this day. But contrary to the scenarios in some people’s minds, in the real world they do work, and work really well.
But what makes it work, you ask? It’s a combination of having people who believe in what they have to contribute, and people who have a strong sense of organization and consistency. In any group of people, this is a small subset compared to the consume-only audience.
In organizations, companies, corporations, etc…, the online tools provided to the employees state a lot about how that company views their employees. Do you have a self-service intranet portal where everyone is spoon-fed whatever they might need to work at your company? Or do you have a social portal where anyone can start a group, invite people with common interests, and discuss whatever is on their mind?
Having a company-wide wiki states a lot about how employees are viewed. It states a level of trust, respect, and belief in their ability to be valuable contributors. Handing someone a whiteboard marker during a meeting is a statement that you are interested in what they have to say. And giving employees a wiki platform to share their experiences and knowledge is the online equivalent of that.
Wikis are inherently good at giving people a place to work together. But as with all tools online and offline, they require maintenance. Wikis are gardens that require gardeners to weed, fertilize, re-seed, and water. And without oversight and guidance, they will grow out of control, just like an untended garden.
If you want your wiki to succeed, you first need to embrace it company-wide. There needs to be no confusion as to when, how, and why people should be using it. And people need to be given the time to use it.
Secondly, everyone needs to be trained to a reasonable extent on how to use it. Putting a wiki out there and expecting it to be a success is like giving a teenager a car without any driving lessons. Anyone can steer and use the gas and brake, but there are ways to drive that make everyone’s lives a little better
Lastly, governance and moderators need to be put in place. Of all tools designed for distributing knowledge with others in effective manners, wikis require possibly the least amount of moderation, unlike content-heavy self-service portals require vast amounts of time and effort to create, approve, publish, and maintain the documents and information they contain.
In the end, it all comes back to how much you believe and trust in the people.