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This tuesday I'm going to do a workshop on wiki for some people in management/business development department. We've been smart enough to choose Confluence for our internal wiki, and its use has been growing steadily ever since last summer, bout the same time as I joined the company.

Over this time I've managed to earn the rep of a wiki-evangelist within the company. This is probably I've taken the time to learn the in's and out's of Confluence content formatting, making pretty layouts with columns and tables, galleries, RSS-feeds, and intranet blogging. Some people think I spend too much time fiddling around with it (see for instance the screenshot of my personal space page), but I think it's fun and interesting to try out. I'm not doing it to evangelize the whole company into going crazy on wiki-usage, I just use the wiki to cover my own butt mostly.



If I didn't write things down in the wiki, I'd very quickly fall into the state of corporate goldfish memory, where the only accessible knowledge would be the one found in my brain, and most of that would be about the projects I'm working on right now. Not half-a-year ago or several years ago.

Instead of trying to remember old projects, I write down stuff every day. It could be anything from 5 to 50 lines, and mostly they're about what I have done, and what I'm going to do. These are for my own reference, not for project documentation. The archive is searchable, and I find my own (and others') notes being more and more useful.

But enough personal motivation. The thing I wanted to write about today is how I'm going to present the use of our beloved wiki for the management.

So, let's start with the cons we've got. These are reasons why management would not like to use the wiki:

  • They've already got an existing intranet. Adding another adds to the complexity of the infrastructure.
  • There is no special interconnection with MS Office/Exchange software.
  • It's another tool to learn (and wiki markup ~> programming language)
  • Suspicion towards wiki access control.
So, to sum up, the Wiki is hard to use, hard to control and does not work well with the existing infrastructure.

So let's start off with these points and break down the wiki-hostility :)

Complexity
The wiki is designed to be a simple tool. It builds on the very basic standards that define the success of the Web today. A wiki does not add much complexity because it is not complicated. It's just a simple web-application that can use your existing user directory service (LDAP), and beyond that it doesn't affect your existing systems (except the competition it adds to your DMS-systems/intranets).

No MS Office collaboration
We'll admit to the fact that there is no special compatibility between the content of your wiki and the content of your Word documents. We (as in us developers) would argue that this is a problem of MS Office not following industry standards, but management hears "bla bla bla our stuff does not work with MS Office", a very bad thing indeed since MS Office is the platform on which they rely to do most of their job.

Now you can upload Office documents as attachments to the wiki, but that's about it. Other than that we can't do much except recommend that management puts their document in explicit, transparent wiki content so they can enjoy the functionality of search, versioning and XML-export.

The learning curve
Once you get into it, wiki-markup is really easy. And if it's still too hard, you can still use the WYSIWYG editor. The issue is also countered by Confluence's excellent documentation.

Access control uncertainties
This is perhaps the most prominent show-stopper for wiki embrace in an organization. It is not only about security and confidentiality. Members of management have a certain.. sovereignity they must perform onto the content they create.

One manager's content is an important artifact. Often it should only be viewed by a select few, and naturally not edited by anyone else than the manager.

The wiki brings with it a message of free access to all content. Everyone can edit everything. This sounds risky to management.

Luckily, Confluence comes with great possibilities for administering access control. Will have to make a point of it on the presentation.



Now I better get started on the presentation. Will include these points, as well as some short history of wiki, the role of wiki (as a Knowledge Management tool?), and finally assignments! (wee, I get to boss management around)

Comments

  1. This is kind of of topic, but is there any particular reason you would recommend confluence over, say, mediawiki, instiki og moinmoin? Most confluence sites I have seen have been hard to understand and navigate, but that might be just me (it often is). What's so special about Confluence? (Maybe a subject for another post?)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wouldn't want to push any particular wiki brand too hard, but mainly I think Confluence has earned its "enterprise wiki" label over the way it enforces structure.

    In any conventional wiki you will have to forge your own structure on conventions throughout the wiki pages, while in Confluence all content is divided into Spaces under which all pages are connected as hierarchies, rather than one big flat collection of pages.

    There are other reasons as well, but to me this is the biggest one. I realize you have the opposite experience, but that may be because of badly implemented navigation, or maybe I've worked with Confluence so much that I've grown used to it :)

    I've done alot of work in Trac and MediaWiki as well, and they were good. But being in a larger organization I'm worried ordinary wiki's would quickly fall into chaos.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an interesting post Thomas! I just want to add some points to you when you say:

    "Now you can upload Office documents as attachments to the wiki, but that's about it. Other than that we can't do much except recommend that management puts their document in explicit, transparent wiki content so they can enjoy the functionality of search, versioning and XML-export."

    The search also covers Excel, Word and PDF -files which is uploaded as attachments.. So the search abilities is actually great!

    On another note: Confluence is fast gaining momentum in many organisations these days. Where I work (Computas) we have bought Confluence for use in projects and to be used as a collaborative tool within the rest of the organisation. This being said it does not replace the intranet, but it can help the intranet not being cludded with all kind of information that you actually want to be edited and maintained by the users themselves. One example could be our Knowledge Management (KM) "group" which meet once a month to discuss different topics within KM. By using a wiki we are all able to edit the content and share our ideas both before and after the meeting. We even upload presentations, articles etc.. to share with the others. In an intranet this is typically administrated by an editor or one person.. This being without any way of giving feedback directly on the page.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your comment, Thommy, and thanks for clearing up the Office-document search issue. I'm sure we'll be discussing the subject (of Confluence and wiki's in general) over a beer in the near future ;)

    ReplyDelete

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