Sep 02

Doug Cornelius has put together some interesting thoughts about corporate wikis. Doug points to CNN Money’s Why commerical Wikis don’t work as evidence of the failed commercial wiki — with Penguin Books failed attempt to write a novel through a wiki being the article’s shining example.

Despite the assistance of a British university’s creative writing team, the collaborative book has become a hodgepodge of writing styles and plots. Let’s face it, there are some people who shouldn’t write a book.

CNN also tells the tale of the L.A. Times’ failed attempt at opening up their editorial page to user editing. Unfortunately, a few people started trashing the pages, and were generally just being destructive (I talked about the destructive potential of anonymity on wikis at the beginning of the year).

Chris Taylor from CNN makes some great points about the need for wikis to be focused — which keeps them from just recruiting anyone to contribute. It’s a bit of a fine line between being open to participation and being a closed community.

All discussions around wikis, however, seem to overlook one crucial and obvious fact. Wikis are often not the best technology to accomplish a goal. Creating a wiki to write a book is about the equivalent of picking several thousand volunteers off the street, putting them in conference centre for a few months, and asking them to design a car. Similarly, we’re not all talented novelists.

Wikis also seek to achieve one version of the truth. Whereas sites like Wikipedia have factual reality as their base (although there are, of course, still many people’s versions of the truth out there), a novel has no factual basis. One plot twist is just as potentially valid as the next.

Similarly, one of the reasons the L.A. Times collaboration space failed because it was trying to create collaborative opinion, rather than collaborative fact. While opinions can be popular or unpopular, it’s very difficult to categorize someone else’s opinion as just plain wrong.

So in the interest of seeing less failed wikis, and more successful ones, I’m proposing that there are five questions we should ask ourselves before going out and creating yet another wiki. If you answer no to any of these questions, please don’t take your wiki out of the box.

1. Is a wiki the best technology for what I am seeking to accomplish?

2. Is my community cohesive and focused enough to be able to work together?

3. Am I asking my community to create a universal truth based on tangible facts?

4. Is my community going to be able to agree on these facts?

5. Is my community both knowledgeable and interested about the subject of the wiki?

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10 Responses to “When wikis won’t work: 5 questions to ask.”

  1. E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez » Blog Archive » When Wikis Won’t Work: 10 Questions to Ask Before Full Adoption Says:

    [...] a specific problem. And that is exactly what Lucas McDonnell has tried to put together over at When Wikis Won’t Work: 5 Questions to Ask. Lucas references a previous blog post put together by Doug Cornelius under the title "Getting [...]

  2. Before you launch that wiki…. Says:

    [...] has a post today that comments on an article by Lucas McDonnell called “When Wikis Won’t Work: 5 Questions to Ask.”  Elsua adds to the 5 questions with 5 more of his own and those are the questions of [...]

  3. Angela Carito-Walmsley Says:

    I would have to agree that cultural barriers continue to be one of the key reasons why wikis fail. Too often we implement new technologies for the sake of their ‘trendiness’ without considering the overall cultural issues and barriers.

    One of the best wiki articles I’ve read recently is the case of Janssen-Cilag where they converted their entire intranet to a wiki solution –
    http://www.e-gineer.com/v2/blog/2007/08/our-intranet-wiki-case-study-of-wiki.htm

  4. Wiki wake-up call and use cases at Sims Learning Connections Says:

    [...] Work: 10 Questions to Ask Before Full Adoption, which continued from Lucas McDonnell’s: When Wikis won’t work: 5 questions to ask post earlier in the week, which built from Doug Cornelius’s post, prompted by Chris [...]

  5. Roundup of Linkage for September | False Positives Says:

    [...] When wikis won’t work: 5 questions to ask. – All discussions around wikis, however, seem to overlook one crucial and obvious fact. Wikis often not the best technology to accomplish a goal. It’s Not the Technology, its the CULTURE. [...]

  6. Is knowledge management bloated? Says:

    [...] talked about the obsession with wikis a few weeks ago, and how wikis are often touted as the solution to any particular problem. Yet wikis are often [...]

  7. knows Says:

    I can only agree. My company tried to get its developers to put all their knowledge about our custom software in a wiki… didn’t work. Nobody had the time or energy.

  8. Lucas McDonnell Says:

    Thanks for your comment knows. This seems to be very common — people put a great deal of time and energy into creating wikis for things that never get used.

    It’s interesting if you think of a wiki on the web — literally every person on Earth with internet access can edit Wikipedia, and still some of the pages go stale. Trying to replicate within an organization of a few hundred or even a few thousand people is just doomed to fail.

  9. In Anchor » When Wikis Won’t Work Says:

    [...] a specific problem. And that is exactly what Lucas McDonnell has tried to put together over at When Wikis Won’t Work: 5 Questions to Ask. Lucas references a previous blog post put together by Doug Cornelius under the title "Getting [...]

  10. Forums versus wikis: wikis often lose. Says:

    [...] in September of last year, I talked about some general questions people should ask before setting up a wiki. The very first question I asked was: “is a wiki the best technology for what I am seeking to [...]

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