Prompted by two recent articles discussing the use of a Wiki, firstly this one by Joann Hackos, and this excellent followup by Ann Gentle, I realised that my current place of employment is an excellent example of how well a Wiki can work internally, and how we are considering building on that success by creating an externally available source.
I can take no credit in the fact that the development team I currently work within has, and actively uses, a Wiki. I joined the company in January this year, and was delighted to find such a resource not only available, but being actively populated.
As an internal resource, the technical advantages of using a Wiki to capture technical information are fairly obvious. The ease of use, and open nature of a Wiki suit the task very well and I think it’s fairly safe to say that a lot of developers enjoy the lack of structure and formality as well. However, it’s one thing to have a Wiki, quite another to make it a central resource that is used without much, or any, prompting.
The key is to make the Wiki THE central resource for team specific information. With that in mind, most of our meeting minutes are posted there, as are seating plans, high-level feature plans and so on. Detail is kept to a minimum, and as they are using the Wiki to track their own work, it’s a simple next step for them to start populating it with any useful nuggets of information.
As for using a Wiki externally, I think Joann has the right idea. If you have a complex product, that can be used in many different ways and scenarios then, quite simply, you aren’t going to be able to document them all. It’s also likely that your users are going to have their own ideas and thoughts and, in some cases, your users may take matters into their own hands and start populating some form of resource of their own.
Wikis, forums and so on, considered the hubs of the social web, have shifted the power of information from the traditional model. Information is now considered free, and regardless of your view on whether or not that is true, the social web and, more importantly, the people involved within it, will pursue whatever they need to meet their needs. So, if you aren’t meeting them, and there may be valid reasons as to why that is so, as I mentioned previously, then perhaps part of our role in the equation is to become the faciliator in that area.
Of course, building an online community, regardless of how it is maintained, is no easy task. The beauty of a Wiki is that it is largely self-administrating, and you can rest assured that your users will automatically be predisposed to making it as useful as possible.
Creating and providing a Wiki to external users has an element of risk, and the biggest challenge may be convincing all the areas within your organisation that need to buy-in to the idea.
Do you use Wikis, internally or externally? Do you have a company blog? An online forum? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Additional info: How to hold meetings on a Wiki