Using Wikis

As part of a bigger effort to introduce some real collaboration into my project work–and our office in general–I’ve signed up for a few wiki accounts, specifically Wetpaint, Wikidot and Socialtext. I’m starting small and looking to incorporate a wiki to help manage and develop some of my projects. Most people–or at least a lot of us who live and work online–have used wikis from time to time, at least as a consumer. Thinking about implementing wikis, from a corporate point of view, requires a shift in thinking about how content and communications are managed. (Aside: so much of the discussion surrounding new communications technologies is clouded by hype and debate about people who don’t “get it.” I find that framing a position this way rarely benefits anyone, since it naturally creates separation, and no matter how much you hold to this point of view you will have to work with those who don’t “get it,” or more likely, have to convince/help them to get it. So I will try to keep the hyperbole and drama to a minimum. We’ll now return to our regular programming.)

Organizations like to control. There may be good reasons for this, but often it’s just a leftover response, like the hunger pangs you get when walking by The Body Shop in the mall and inhaling the scent of vanilla; intellectually you know there are no cookies in there, but your gut is telling you something else. The problem is, staff talk. They always have. And these days, of course, they aren’t limited by a physical chat with one person, they blog it and tell the world.

Wikis have the potential to take the control–if it ever really was there to begin with–away from the top and hand it to the bottom. This creates some interesting dynamics. Suddenly, people who may have been used to being told what processes to follow are now actively creating the processes themselves. People whose opinions might not have been sought out previously can now directly influence decisions and policy.

I’m not sure what the future holds for wikis in my organization, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get something off the ground. Things tend to move slowly, but I have a feeling they’ll start to pick up soon. There’s a real need to move beyond fear–especially of “failure”–and experiment. Without experimentation how can progress happen?

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