The Lit Maven

Posts Tagged ‘wikis; wiki; SharePoint 2010

There’s a lot of chatter in technology circles these days about wikis and how useful they are in SharePoint 2010.  I spoke about this topic at SharePoint Saturday on February 4, 2012 at DeVry University in Fort Washington, PA.  While researching for my talk, I came to love wikis as obscure relations in the huge SharePoint family of capabilities.  My first reaction to this brave new wiki world was wondering:  why would I use a wiki?  Now, the question is:  why wouldn’t I use a wiki?  Wikis were invented by Ward Cunningham in 1995 and heralded the dawn of social media as we know it today. One of my favorite Ward  quotes is from an interview from 2003:  “Wiki is like a leaky bucket of information.  It’s losing information every day.  But more information is coming in, so the net is positive.  Even if it can lose things, wiki always has more to say than it did the day before.”  The beauty of wikis is that, in the purest form, anyone can contribute, edit and/or delete.  A wiki is simply a shared online database of linked pages designed to be used quickly and easily (hence the name Wiki from the Hawaiian Wiki Wiki meaning quick) and is a place to create, share, list, organize, solve, collaborate and establish. It is a crucial element of Knowledge Management in that it allows people to take thoughts and ideas out of their heads and put them in a tangible form so that others can view and comment on them. The best example of a wiki and something I use almost every day is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is great because it is written by the people for the people in the people’s language so that it is easily understood.  Changes can be tracked and viewed.  If incorrect or malicious information is written, it will most likely be removed promptly and replaced by correct information.   There are many, many wiki examples out there – just Bing or Google “wiki examples”.  I read Wikis for Dummies to get a good idea of what this crazy concept is all about.  So, what does this mean in the SharePoint 2010 world?  The concept of a wiki being a shared online database of pages that anyone can edit fits quite nicely into the SharePoint philosophy of collaboration.

 There are two ways to use wikis within SharePoint:  1) within a Team Site and 2) as an Enterprise Wiki Site.  What are the differences and how can each of these be used for the good of the project or of the corporation in which you are working?  Wikis can be used within a Team Site to encourage and foster ideas.  Again, the emphasis is more knowledge-based than content-based.  Unless a Project Manager is a control freak and views himself as the ultimate Supreme Being of a Project, a team can use wikis quite successfully.  A PM sets up the wiki and allows his team members to go at it – it’s a bit structured and features a one-to-many focus, that is, one person will add an idea or start a brainstorm and others contribute to it or start new ones, but the wiki only has one topic – the project at hand or the team involved with the site. Use it for brainstorming, design collaborating, training, data gathering, request tracking and encyclopedia building.  For example, the librarians at Wyeth in Content Services created a manual for policies and procedures that covered everything from ordering documents to handling reference requests to training colleagues on resources to cataloging electronic and hard copy books and journals.  At first, the manual was printed out and kept in binders – basically, 200 pages of verbage. If someone changed something, a new manual would have to be printed out.  The end result (other than wasting paper) was that changes were made infrequently and the manual was continuously out of date.  When we switched to a wiki, changes could be made quickly (wiki wiki!) and [almost] effortlessly. If someone made a mistake or entered incorrect information, it was easy for the rest of us to track her down like wild dogs and make her pay for her sins.  This resulted in our manual becoming chock-full of correct and current information all the time.  Since we added a table of contents, we could link to all the parts of the wiki and find items very easily.  This was so successful that other departments copied our efforts and their policies and procedures were up-to-date and usable, too. 

Wikis can be adapted on the corporate level as well within the guise of Enterprise Wiki Sites.  This means that the entire site is a wiki – capable of holding large quantities of information in various forms. It stands alone and informs employees about corporate activities, benefits and services, thus cutting down on need for new employee training sessions that can last for several days.  Everyone in the corporation can edit the content within.  Sound scary?  Sure it does, which means careful consideration must be given before this wiki form is used.  The benefits of an Enterprise Wiki Site is that the focus is many-to-many, meaning that every department/business unit within the enterprise can have its own say; it is truly collaborative – people can add, edit and delete, but also comment and share; and there is the page rating capability.  False information is kept in check through tracking.  If anyone changes information either innocently or maliciously, that person is known and becomes accountable. 

Whether you are using wikis within a team site or if you have an Enterprise Wiki Site, you can take advantage of versioning control – versions are carefully tracked and can be easily viewed by all.  As with other SharePoint capabilities, wikis are fully searchable. 

What are Wiki Best Bets?  DO respect everybody; get your content up on the wiki and show people how to use it and edit it; add navigation; monitor and repair incorrect information quickly; write with a neutral point of view, cite references if appropriate.  DON’T set too many rules; write anything inappropriate or forget to link.  So, there you have it – wiki away and have fun!