My remark in the previous post on how the biggest problem with introducing a corporate wiki is social and cultural, rather than technical, provoked quite a few replies. For the most part they agreed with the point, and several people asked how best, then, to counter this.
I certainly have no silver bullets, but I can offer one observation that has been true for every wiki that I’ve seen succeed: At least one person needs to use it both as their primary source of information, and their primary tool for sharing information to others.
Every time someone asks them a question, they respond “It’s on the wiki” (and if they’re more polite than I usually am, tell them where). Every time someone starts launch into a protracted explanation of something, they interrupt with “Can I read about this on the wiki?” Gradually they train everyone that information flow, at least as far as they’re concerned, happens on the wiki.
For most people who haven’t experienced wikis before there’s a bootstrapping problem. They regularly go to the wiki looking for information and find that it’s not there. If this happens enough times, anyone will get frustrated. Eventually they give up, and revert back to their old ways of working, bemoaning the uselessness of this latest technology. The threshold differs from person to person, but any early stage wiki is usually going to hit a majority of people’s limits fairly quickly unless it’s pre-seeded with a lot of useful information. Most people tend not to really start seeing the value of a wiki until the information they require is there more often than not.
A true wiki champion, the type needed by every successful wiki, somehow doesn’t despair at the absence of information. Rather they see it as another opportunity to make the wiki even more useful. They’ll either make sure that when they find the information, they add it to the wiki, or, if they’re a true master, ensure that the person who does have the information adds it to the wiki for them.
In my experience, this pattern of driving everyone else to the wiki every time they need information, or want to share it, builds a momentum fairly quickly. The death of a wiki is not related to the absence of information; it’s related to the absence of use. One regular user can push those in his immediate work circle to become regular users almost by stealth. And once they cross to acting likewise, the battle is usually complete.
I’d love to hear others’ stories (whether of success or failure), of the issues involved introducing wikis to companies. There’s bound to be lots of useful examples out there to learn from. Post your story somewhere and link to this post, so I’ll notice it. Or just drop me an email, and I’ll collate and summarise.
UPDATE: By request I’ve also enabled comments on this post. In general I have them turned off, for a variety of reasons, but I’ll see how it goes here …
UPDATE 2: Well, it didn’t take long for the comment spam to turn up, so I guess it’s back to email.