MindTouch, maker of enterprise software it dubs "collaborative networks," has long had a focus on the creation of both public and private knowledge bases. Today it has added an external-facing version of its software for letting customers contribute to the information about your enterprise. Backed by a strong moderation system, the MindTouch Collaborative Knowledge Base is designed to open up your product documentation, FAQs, support guides, and other kinds of corporate information.

With both technical and cultural roots in wikis, the company previously added an intranet to its suite of both open source and proprietary enterprise software. Now they want you to make the content you're already providing to the public editable.

So What's the Benefit?

If you ask them about crowdsourcing their content, many enterprises might automatically respond: so where's the benefit for us? To some it sounds like a lot of potential work without a direct ROI. To naysayers, MindTouch would respond that the benefits of using their software are twofold:

  1. Up to date documentation with less effort. Let's admit it. Most companies do a pretty poor job of staying current on documentation. And for good reason: editing FAQS plays second fiddle to getting the product out the door in top notch condition. Why not let the customers who are knowledgeable and passionate about a product lend their expertise?
  2. Create a visible customer community. Letting your best customers know that you trust them to help keep documentation fresh is a Web-style way of creating an engaged group of participants in your brand.

Most options for creating customer communities, such those from leaders like Telligent, Jive and Lithium, focus more on conversations than strict documentation. Their approach takes an ever-expanding dialogue and adds structure around it to create a searchable knowledge base. MindTouch sets out to create a centralized, community-driven knowledge base from the start, and leaves support conversations out of the picture.

So which method is better?

It honestly depends on your preference. A forums-based software is definitely a proven model for businesses. Lately vendors have tried to spice up the Web 1.0 flavor of forums by tying into the broader social Web. MindTouch's tool is different in that it aims to make corporate documents directly editable, rather than have you start from scratch to build a community.

Moderation is the Key

Plenty of businesses have flirted with letting customers edit content in the past. But the limitations have either been that the software was too complex for the public to easily use (think MediaWiki and its usability issues) or there wasn't enough moderation for corporate to be comfortable with the idea.

Most people know that wikis offer ways to monitor changes after they're published. Other kinds of software can be tweaked to allow anyone to contribute, but contributions must be approved beforehand. The problem with the first option is that it can quickly become overwhelming to non-technical users, and the problem with the second is that it stymies a vibrant community.

What's most impressive about MindTouch's new software is that it provides a powerful tool for editorial control without requiring a heavy-handed, all-or-nothing approach. Businesses can keep their community open and still deal with less than desirable content or contributors swiftly. They can also require approval prior to publishing as deemed necessary.

Real usability and flexible moderation tools are two factors that have held back more enterprises from opening up content to their customers. If MindTouch can demonstrate to businesses that they've solved these problems, then they've got a fighting chance of converting them to the collaborative mindset.