An Anomaly, Not an Archetype - How Your Business Wiki will Differ from Wikipedia

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Wikpedia: An Anomoly, Not an ArchetypeWikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and the one wiki almost everybody knows about, is often considered an archetype for all wikis. In the minds of most people, Wikipedia is synonymous with wiki, to the point that the two words are interchangeable. A quick Twitter search for "wiki" shows this - a good number of "wiki" uses are referring to Wikipedia. The verb "to wiki" has come to mean searching Wikipedia. Among those that don't know better, Wikipedia sets the example for all other wikis to follow. In practice, this could not be further from the truth.

First, let's see how Wikipedia itself defines the word wiki:

A wiki is a website that allows the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked Web pages, using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor, within the browser. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites, to power community websites, for personal note taking, in corporate intranets, and in knowledge management systems.

There are countless wiki sites on the Internet and behind corporate firewalls. There's only one Wikipedia, and only a relative handful of the other wikis in existence work like Wikipedia or serve a similar purpose. Wiki sites generally fall into a few basic categories:

  • General - Meatball Wiki, C2 (the original wiki!)
  • Reference - Wikipedia, Ask Dr. Wiki, Wikispecies
  • Communities - These are countless, both public and private, and serve niche communities like residents of a specific town, members of a professional organization or fans of The Muppets.
  • Business - The vast majority of these are password protected or live behind corporate firewalls. Perhaps one of the fastest growing categories of wiki, businesses are increasingly using wikis to centralize knowledge, cut down on email and connect employees within an office and around the world.
  • Personal - Many individuals use a wiki as a personal online notebook. Wikis make a convenient spot to keep notes, information and documents online, particularly if you want to be able to update and search your information from any web-connected computer.

The rest of this article will focus on Business wikis and how they compare to the Wikipedia-style wiki. The Business category is perhaps the most divergent from the open reference/community wikis, and it's worth exploring the major differences.

If you're considering implementing a wiki within your business or organization, you'll need to know how and why it will likely differ from Wikipedia. Let's look at these differences across a few different categories: Purpose, Audience, Software, Moderation and Security.


Purpose

Wikipedia

A defined, if quite broad scope: topical, factual information. This is the scope chosen and enforced by Wikipedia - it has nothing to do with the fact that Wikipedia is built using wiki software.

Business Wikis

To be defined. What will your business use the wik for? It's fairly wide open, but there are some common purposes, from highly specific to quite general:

  • Meeting Notes / Minutes
  • Project Information & Status
  • Company Policies
  • Procedure Documentation
  • Product Documentation
  • Sales Collatoral
  • Collaboration/Communication with Customers/Clients (Extranet)
  • Any combination of the above, and more.

Audience

Wikipedia

Everyone. Wikipedia is deliberately open to the public for both viewing and editing anonymously.

It's worth noting that a very small percentage of people who view Wikipedia regularly have ever made an edit.

Business Wikis

You define it. Usually, business wikis are confined to employees - sometimes limited to a specific team or department. You can configure a wiki to give everyone the same access, or set up sections for each department or team. Sometimes customers/clients are invited in to all or portions of the wiki.

The most important difference in Audience is that business wiki users are identified and know each other. Removing the anonymity found in Wikipedia drastically changes the dynamic.


Software

Wikipedia

Wikipedia uses Mediawiki - an open source wiki software project specifically built and design for Wikipedia.

Many people starting wikis assume that Mediawiki is the obvious choice because it's what Wikipedia uses. How similar is your site to Wikipedia in terms of size, complexity, features, usability, goals and audience?

A key difference is that Mediawiki uses wki markup - a text-based formatting language that, to the uninitiated, can be a serious usability road block.

Business Wikis

It's likely, in fact, that Mediawiki is not a good choice for your business wiki. There are tons of options. EditMe is a great choice. There are also many more complex options depending on your needs. Check out wikimatrix.org - a tool to search the full gamut of wiki software options based on what you actually need.

Most business-focused wikis use a WYSIWYG editor. EditMe's editor, for example, features a toolbar for formatting content similar to what you might find in your favorite web email message composer. If your audience is largely made up of non-technical folks, don't underestimate the importance of an easy-to-use editor.


Moderation

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is wide open. It's just about the most extreme implementation of the wiki concept: everybody can see and edit everything. Only recently have a few key pages been tagged for moderation when edited by new or anonymous editors. See Wikipedia's Content Moderation: Proof that Wikis Work.

Moderation in Wikipedia is a community effort. People who are interested in, say, frying pans, and have contributed significant content to the page, will watch it for edits and roll back any malicious changes or fix any errors as they're made.

Business Wikis

Many businesses start off wanting all kinds of controls and restrictions for their business wiki. They fear that people will vandalize the wiki and edit or delete information they should not.

In practice, you'll find this does not happen. As mentioned in Audience above, users of your business wiki are not anonymous. Everyone can see what they've changed and when. As long as general users cannot destroy information on the wiki (e.g. they're not administrators), you're not likely to have problems that can't be easily dealt with.

EditMe and many other wikis provide email notifications for changes. How likely is somebody to vandalize a wiki page knowing their boss and peers are going to get an email about it automatically?

If an employee is leaving the company, their access to the site can be easily revoked by an administrator.


Security

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is public, so security is not a huge issue. Obviously, they need to make sure their servers doesn't get hacked and that malicious software isn't uploaded. Ironically, the open nature of Wikipedia makes security a much larger problem that it will likely be for your business wiki.

Business Wikis

If you choose to host your own wiki in-house, your IT department can easily ensure that only employees can access the site. They can manage the server to keep it patched and secure. IT will likely be the administrator of the wiki and manage the user accounts. 

If you choose to outsource your wiki to a hosted solution like EditMe, you just need to turn on the access controls so that the site requires a login for viewing. This keeps both curious visitors and search engines out of it. Additionally, you'll want to enable SSL encryption (HTTPS) to keep your data secure as it crosses over the Internet.

 

Hopefully this helps to clear up how your internal or business wiki will differ from the big daddy of all wikis. Just remember, a wiki is what you make it. There are no hard and fast rules about how a wiki can be used. Use your imagination. See what works and what doesn't, and adjust your expectations and strategy accordingly.

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