Developer

Implementing wikis and knowledge-sharing on your website

Ryan Boudreaux explains the importance of wikis as knowledge-sharing tools and the factors that you should consider before implementing a wiki as part of a website.

Knowledge sharing to improve products and outcomes takes advantage of the collective wisdom of the multitudes. Managing collaborative wikis and workspaces requires working across boundaries, engagement, and transparency. Typically it comes down to knowledge management, but ensuring that shared information is accurate and reliable is a great challenge. How do you as a web master ensure that the wiki model is set within the right circumstances for shared knowledge within your organization? If you have a wiki on your website do you have any control over the wiki and its contents?

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki describes the aggregation of many samplings from a crowd — which it turns out, under the right circumstances — is actually smarter as a collective whole than the individuals that make it up, and even more accurate, according to experts in some studies. From a statistical point of view, when data from a crowd is collected and averaged, the end result answers were typically right on target when compared to samplings from a few experts on the subject matter. The crowd mentality is not without failure, however, as in some cases, the cooperation failed to achieve its desired goal because the opinions of individuals began to emulate that of others and the group became more of a conformed consensus than a set of individual thinkers.

What guidelines and best practices can be established to ensure that the wiki model is a viable means of improving critical business systems within your organization? Several considerations include:

  • making the wiki public or private
  • featuring a rating and voting system
  • allowing a level of balanced moderation
  • sustaining and growing the wiki
  • the wiki management life cycle

Public or private

This is probably one of the first decision points when considering the establishment of a wiki or for adding control to a public wiki, and this depends on your community and content. One way to elicit control is to make it a closed community of members who must first register, then gain approval by an assigned individual or group such as an administrator/moderator, or appropriate content owners, and only then can contributions be accepted. In some circumstances it would be appropriate for anyone to view the wiki and any public content, but only members of the wiki are allowed to make edits to the content.

Rating and voting

Rating allows the group of peers to decide on what versions of text and language can be used to incorporate into policy and become accepted into the knowledge base. The highest rated text becomes the accepted piece of knowledge for that particular topic. Several collaboration tools allow simple, scalable, efficient, democratic systems where real-time suggestions encourage members to borrow other member's text, ideas, and words, resulting in an automated tracking of authorship and giving appropriate credit. Then, the group rates the most popular ideas and language in a democratic fashion, such as a "star" rating system, which allows members to rank submissions on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being the highest rating.

Moderation

Moderating a wiki typically includes an explicit set of rules to avoid abuse and spam including community, organizer, and automatic controls. Community moderation allows members to report inappropriate content with a "report abuse" button for example, and using the five-star rating system to rank submissions based on a criteria set established by the organization. The moderators and administrators have the power to completely remove any inappropriate content or lower ranked content, and move any off-topic content to separate areas or delete them entirely. Automatic controls include filters for language and abusive behavior based on black listed terms, and algorithms that recognize certain activity patterns. The moderated approach to wiki management flies in the face of the traditional wiki model, where the encouragement of emergent work with no imposing structure, processes, or rules creates and encourages open communities of knowledge sharing. Striking a balance between moderation and openness will likely keep management happy and wiki members interested while growing the wiki.

Sustainability and growth

Growing the wiki depends greatly on the approval and adoption rate of the organization; in particular, having an active, responsive, and supportive management team will aid in the shared development, usage, and practice of expanding the wiki to a mature lifecycle. On it's own a wiki may not solve an organization's knowledge base opportunities, yet wikis are considered a radical departure from previous generations of knowledge/content management tools, with an easier to learn, deploy, and use model, giving members the collaboration capability that can be molded to fit their specific desires. The opportunity lies in getting early adopters into the group and keeping them motivated, while momentum and support from management grows. The largest challenge is having a clear understanding of human behavior including organizational culture, learning practices, and collaboration between organizational boundaries and groups.

Wiki management lifecycle

The lifecycle should include identifying the needs; planning the technology, implementation, and management; a staged adoption plan; maintaining the growth and propagation of the wiki; and regular evaluation to revise and implement based on feedback and review.

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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