Wikis

Some things take longer than others for me.

I was quick to grok the blogging thing, reading them, writing them, etc.

I was pretty quick to grok the podcasting and vlogging things too.

RSS made sense to me immediately.

But candidly wikis have taken longer for me.

But I am there now and happy to be at the party.  Better late than never.

I’ve been using wikipedia for a couple years but its only in the past couple months that I have made it my first stop for any sort of quest for knowledge. 

Now when my kids ask me a question while they are doing their homework, whether its something about a proton, Antarctica, or Ben Franklin, I click on the Wikipedia button on my browser and peek into the collective knowledge of the Internet users.  It is fantastic and it gets better and better every day.

Tom Evlsin launched his hackoff.com project over the weekend and called it a "blook".  If you go to wikipedia and search for "blook", there is already an entry on the topic.  And Tom didn’t put it there because he sent me an email telling me how blown away he was to find it there.

The web moves fast and wikipedia is one of its main beneficiaries.

The wiki concept is simple.  Leverage the concept of "peer production" to build knowledge bases that could not be economically created any other way.

Wikipedia is clearly the most visible and most powerful example of the power of a wiki, but the wiki movement is taking hold all over the place.

Just this morning, I blogged about Alacra’s wiki for business information.  If you know a lot about business information, go there and add some stuff to it.  If you want to know more about business information, go there and benefit from the knowledge of others.

The first people finders I saw in the wake of Katrina were wikis that had been hacked together in a matter of hours.  They got the job done as well or better than many of the other resources that eventually were deployed against that problem.

We used to use a relational database on our server in our office to log every business plan that comes into our firm.  It worked but it was a chore to add new fields or screens.  And you had to be in the office to log into it.

In a day or two several months ago, Charlie hacked together a wiki.  He imported all of the data from our database, and we had a deal log wiki.  But in less than a month, it has expanded to the central resource through which we manage our whole firm.

Why?

Because when we get a business plan or something related to a project we are working on, we just email it to the wiki and its in there the next time we go look at the wiki.

Because when we want to add a screen to capture data on a project or event we are working on, we just add a page and off we go.

And these pages can be shared with whomever we want to share them with. 

Because wikis live on the web, not locked in some server in our office, we can choose to open them up, bit by bit, to others we want to collaborate with.

And then we can benefit from the knowledge of others.

Clayton Christensen points out in the Innovator’s Dilemma that most disruptive technologies are very simple, easy to use products that lack the power and sophistication of the established category leaders.

But these dead simple tools are adopted quickly because they solve the problems for people in a way that the category leaders don’t.

So my experience and my bet is that wikis will take the enterprise by storm.  Because they are simpler, easier, and better.

They are proving it already on the web.  It’s just a matter of time before they do it with even more impact in the enterprise.

Here are two places to start if you want to get a wiki

JotSpot – For consumers and small businesses
SocialText – For larger companies.