posted 7 Sep 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 1
Blogs & wikis
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
If you think that your organisation does not use blogs or wikis, then you may need to think again. Just as instant messaging appeared informally a few years ago, blogs and wikis are appearing as skunkworks projects across a large number of organisations. A blog is a good method of distributing information but its value really ends there. A wiki, however, provides facilities for a much more sophisticated exchange of information, since a wiki is a website where readers are able to contribute content and edit existing content.
The core value of a wiki is that it permits multiple authors to work on content, exchange ideas and connect information together in a potentially sophisticated network of pages. A small number of the most sophisticated wikis even offer limited facilities for e-mail. This means that wikis can be used to create multiple workspaces for projects or topics, with the more sophisticated tools providing access control to limit the type of access users have. Within the workspaces, hierarchies of pages can be created, and content and links can be placed on the pages. Wikis also deliver an automated linking approach so that cross-references can be generated automatically. This means that a complex, interlinked network of pages can be developed relatively easily. This cross-linking can deliver a very rich environment - it can also make it easy to get lost, so it needs to be used with care. A wiki can deliver functionality similar to discussion groups, bulletin boards, workspaces, blogs and a range of other asynchronous collaboration facilities.
This all means that wikis offer at least a partial alternative to the collaboration suites available from the big software vendors. Wiki software is often available at low cost and in many cases is available as shareware. In some cases, you can purchase enterprise-wide licences for a few thousand dollars. Inevitably, the level of support and maintenance that is available is likely to be highly variable (although the big vendors are often far from perfect), so this something to be considered if you are thinking about this approach. Scalability and reliability can also be issues. However, if you are happy using this type of software then it offers a good opportunity to start collaborating for a very modest outlay. There are at least 1,000 organisations using this type of software worldwide, as well as innumerable casual web users.
The use of blogs and wikis does not necessarily need to be completely formalised and controlled in your organisation - one of the big benefits of these approaches is that they are informal. But you will need to put in place some rules about how they are used, just like you have (or certainly should have) for e-mail and instant messaging. You may also want to put these techniques more formally into your knowledge-management strategy.
They are great ways of communicating and can offer you very significant benefits if implemented carefully.