NewYork2008:Using Wikis for Effective Collaboration

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Over the past several years, wikis have demonstrated their value as a key tool in certain project management processes. This session will map out best practices and techniques for successfully utilizing wiki technology for project collaboration. Also discussed will be when not to use wikis, and when more structured information sharing tools are advisable.

Session Notes

The Wiki session

Who: Ian, Jeremy, Laura, Marc, Heather, Thomas, Radha and Billy

Must see video: Wikis in Plain English:

Note: In the UK - wikis are not really used in the social sector.

Marc - Started doing wikis in 2001. Done 80 wikis in that time! Specializes in tikiwiki.

  • What are the different wikis and what is good for what?
  • What are the successes?
  • What are the events around wikis?
  • Wikifarms?
  • What are they good for and when are they not good?

Marc: Largest collaborative project in the history of mankind. What is larger than Wikipedia?

Example of a scope of what can be done.

Wiki farm (meaning hosted, 500 or more subdomains) is: Build, buy or rent options. Open source. is a list of all the wikis with a table that compares all the wikis. You can also ask questions on this forum.

A Wiki farm is pbwiki, etc... free wikis

What are they good at? What are they not good at?

Thomas: Structure of a wiki is ideal. Problems include people management. He handed the project down more than it should have been. It hasn't been well kept up (decided not going to use product after it was up...). He'd like to use a lot for HR.

Jeremy points out the legal implications of that. But in general that's a great idea. He spent three years working on a crm (robohelp). Put information on a wiki so it was easy to search. Such a great way to document. They used the wiki Confluence, which wouldn't print thumbnails.

Marc: Downsides include lack of structure. You have to make one using categories and tags.

Strength: Intuitive, it's a blank page. People are used to writing down notes so wiki just replaces that page. And it is shareable. Maybe it's a good thing it's not so sophisticated because of new users it is easy to use.

Laura: Is a wiki complicated for those without any tech skills?

Thomas: Depends on the software. Beth Kanter has done excellent writing on wikis on her blog. It's not a "if you build it they will come." (just like a website!!)

Marc: You have a wiki gardener or keeper. You need moderation to make it work.

Jeremy: Not hard for folks to learn it, but first they need to get to the point of being ready to learn it. There's a psychological step.

Marc: Commercial wikis are easier to use. WYSWYG - It's difficult to have WYSWYG and wiki syntax. You can't do the roundtrip even if they promise it it's not reliable. There are so many wiki standards to choose from. Each one has different syntax. Wiki Creole is an initiative to merge the syntax. It hasn't been widely adopted yet though.

Jeremy: Some matrix will allow you to plug in different syntax.

Marc: 80% of wikis are mediawiki. They have not indicated that they will move to Creole. It's too much work.

Thomas: wikispaces and pbwiki - you can get free account at either.

There's also pmwiki. This can be installed on existing host.

Marc: Trac is good. Two families of wikis: Database versus text. Twiki, pmwiki, etc. If you have several thousands of pages you need database wiki. Tikiwiki is closer to Drupal and Joomla! than pmwiki. For a small wiki use docuwiki (text version). Best practices/pitfalls for using wikis as a project management tool

Marc: The reason it works is because humans work that way. Classical way: People don't use project management tools for them. The boss tells you to fill out the tools for them. But then they don't use it anymore.

But: Take a big project and make subprojects/subpages. Put tasks on page with the goal and person working on the project. Easy to add them to the site. Customers add to the wiki page to decide how important something is. If it's complicated do a link to something that explains it. Also the right hand knows what left hand is doing. The wiki saves all the changes and you can get them emailed to you. You can make something private. twiki and tikiwiki are good at that. Media wiki is not.

Jeremy: What stops people from using something is asking how long are they going to be doing it? Just for the website or is it going to be part of the organizational culture?

Marc: Knowledge is power. Now information is power, but it's the go-between that is important. Check out the Common Craft video on YouTube (four friends go on a camping trip). Best hybrid tool - bridge higher level tool, but at lower level it would be wiki pages.

Important points covered:

1. Wikis work for people because everyone knows how to take notes.

2. Largest collaborative project in the history of mankind. What is larger than wikipedia?

Example of a scope of what can be done.

3. You need a gardener. You need a moderator.

4. The plus and minus lesson. Reputation from the wiki collaboration stands.

5. File base versus database.

6. Building project management with a wiki.