Do Tools matter for the Wiki Culture ?

07 Nov 2013 5 min read

One more article in our series of articles, entitled "How can the wiki culture change your business".

Yes they do, but they are not enough. You might fail to make the "Wiki Culture" transformation in your enterprise despite all your best efforts to convince team members of its importance and despite discussing what they need to change in order to work collaboratively or share information. It might fail because you are not giving your users the appropriate tools that will lead to the benefits of the "Wiki Culture". 

If you only focus on the tools, you might also fail because you are not explaining the changes that the team need to apply in the way they work.

It is therefore important to have a combined approach both on the "management side" and on the "technical side".

Speaking of tools, what about existing tools like "emails and documents" and what about emerging tools like "enterprise social networks"?

Emails and Document Management

Emails and Documents are what users are most familiar with today. The reason why they are hugely familiar with email and documents is that they are very strongly grounded in our culture. Letters and documents have been around since writing and messaging has been here for ages.

When writing a document on a personal computer, do we think how easy or difficult it will be for other people to contribute to the document? Have we thought whether the way the information is structured in our document is the best way for this information to be navigated after we create it?
Most users do not take this into account, focusing solely on how long they take and how convenient it is for them to create the initial document. 

Another reason why Email and Documents still prevail today is that our software industry has been dominated in the last 20 years by Microsoft, whose business significantly relies on email and documents, with tens of billions of dollars at stake in the Microsoft Office franchise, spending billions of dollars in improving a type of collaboration that is doomed in the end, just slowing down the change process. 

But what is the issue? An email is an efficient "notification tool", although with information bloating too much information kills information. However the only collaboration possible when using email is to "answer it", which leads to "commenting" on the other person's work more than participating to it.
Secondly the "office document" has the same effect, especially when it's offline, but not only. Offline, it's close to impossible to participate to the document, as a "leader" will have to integrate changes from all participating parties. Online participation is easier, but combining information with other documents proves difficult, as well as the interlinking of information. Also the flat nature of the document's information, leads to fully unstructured information which is not the best way to structure all information (see the second of new generation wikis).

Finally, when you have a set of documents, even shared on an online server, organizing them proves very difficult, being limited to a folder structure with little informative value. Navigation inside the information is hard and users tend to solely use the search engine. Once too much content is indexed, the search engine will return poor results.

In the end, the key elements that have been viewed as the main reason for the success of projects like Wikipedia, cannot be achieved, namely the "small contribution process" and the "interlinking" and "organization of information". Wiki Culture cannot be achieved with emails and documents.

Facebook Culture or Wiki culture

Recently our industry has pushed hard the concept of "Enterprise Social Networks" as the solution to all these problems. I've heard the vision of getting rid of email with Enterprise Social Networks. While Enterprise Social Networks do have many benefits, particularly in helping spreading information more efficiently or setting up a better "question/answer" process inside a company, in my view, they tend to fall back into the same types of issues.
They still promote more an "individual process" than a "group process". They don't really offer a solution to structure and organize information. They still have a "bias" towards "commenting" instead of "participating". 

To help understand the difference of what you can achieve with Social Networks compared to Wikis, we can compare Facebook with Wikipedia. They both enjoy immense success. However when you search for information on Google, ask yourself, does it lead you most of the time to a Facebook dialog or to a Wikipedia page?
If you find relevant information on both a Facebook or a forum discussion and in Wikipedia, which one is easier to navigate? The forum or the Wikipedia page?

While the Facebook culture can have short term benefits in terms of information spreading, only the Wiki Culture once strongly rooted will have a long term effect and help solve the "knowledge challenge".

Ludovic Dubost
President & Founder

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