The Business Case

In the corporate world, wikis have been gaining popularity as flexible, easy-to-implement collaboration tools. They're inexpensive, if not free, relatively simple to set up, and very easy to access from a web browser. Because all the wiki-ing takes place in the individual users' web browsers, wikis present virtually no learning curve. And private wikis set up on the corporate intranet work just the same as public wikis that live on the web.

The success of Wikipedia with its 75,000 contributors notwithstanding, corporate wikis appear to be the most effective when the number of users is small, and the content is specific to the group.

No More E-mail Ping Pong

Instead of exchanging e-mails and attachments, corporate wiki users can work together on private web pages in near real time. Wikis serve as unusually dynamic communications environments that can help corporate teams to remain agile and competitive.

A corporate wiki provides a highly flexible platform for internal collaboration and document management, but because it's online, it provides that same platform to team members who are scattered in different locations. These “distributed” teams can use a wiki as a central location for managing meeting notes, team agendas, and company calendars. The content stored on a wiki can be updated with no real lag time and little to no administrative intervention. And they're browser-based, so distribution is automatic. Because they're browser-based, wikis can also be used to centralize a range of corporate data types — everything from PowerPoint presentations to PDF files.

Corporate Communities

Just as public-facing wikis can be used to create unique communities on the web, corporate wikis can serve as platforms for internal, special-interest “communities” with limited accessibility within an organization. Companies are using internal wiki communities as ongoing collaborative spaces, typically devoted to particular products or product areas. IT organizations (the company computer guys) are also using wikis to develop and maintain the documentation for their in-house software and systems.

A corporate wiki is most often implemented behind the firewall. Unless you're managing an open-source-software project, there's little reason to publish the work-in-progress documentation of a company's activities on the web. Also, limited-access wikis are simply less likely to be misused.

Corporate Chaos?

At first blush, wikis might seem to be unlikely business tools. All this openness and anyone-can-edit-the-documents stuff can feel chaotic. But even the public-facing, come-one-come-all Wikipedia has systems in place for source and version management. The structure of a wiki is essentially organic; once it's set up, a wiki is controlled by its users, not by administrators. But corporate wikis are not free-for-alls.

Savvy corporate wiki managers define their wiki use policies carefully. Some basic guidelines — what might be thought of as wiki etiquette — are required around things like deleting and modifying the contributions of others. The last thing you want is for team members to keep their own copies of earlier versions, which would negate the benefits of wiki-style interactions. The wiki gets everyone on the same page, but the company still has to make sure that everyone is speaking the same language.

Enterprise-Friendly Wiki Features

Since the business world discovered wikis, demand has been growing for wiki engines designed specifically for the needs of companies. This subgenre of wiki software adds some distinctly enterprise-friendly features to the usual wiki toolbox, including, among others:

  • Workspaces, which allow companies to organize their wiki-editable information by groups, teams, projects, and/or product categories.

  • Permission tools, which are corporate-oriented access-control tools for setting read/edit permission for individual pages or entire Workspaces.

  • Notification systems, which allow companies to use e-mail and RSS feeds to let supervisors and others know when a document or page on the wiki has been modified.

  • Corporate identity features that allow the company to design their wikis to reflect the look of other company websites and intranet resources.

  • Custom permissions tools, which take the access controls to a finertuned level.

  • Encryption, advanced security, and backup features, to protect the company's data.

  • Threaded discussion displays, which post messages (questions, comments, suggestions) among team members alongside the documents they're working on.

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