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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