I’ve begun the push to introduce wiki and weblog technologies into the company I work for. As I wrote in my last post, I’m aiming to enhance Information Flow within my company. There is some initial skepticism from my colleagues about wikis and weblogs, but mainly due to unfamiliarity with these tools. For example, one concern is of the unstructured nature of Wikis when compared to the highly-structured nature of Content Management Systems. Wikis and Weblogs are often seen by people as being replacements for Content Management and Document Management Systems. And in a sense it is a choice between two types of Knowledge Management: Bottom-Up (wikis/weblogs) vs Top-Down (CMS’s, Doc Mgmt). But right now I see wikis/weblogs as being complimentary to CMS’s and Doc Mgmt systems – not replacements. There is still a need for structured information in a corporate setting and probably there always will be, but what wikis and weblogs potentially bring to the table is collaboration and a publish-subscribe culture.
Having said that, there’s no doubt that wikis/weblogs would be much stronger technologies if we could discover how to add layers of structure to the information that we produce using these tools. But that’s when the Semantic Web looms into view like a giant blimp and techies start throwing 3-letter acronyms at each other like paper airplanes. Long story short: when the day arrives that we able to structure Web information from the bottom-up in a practical and user-friendly manner, that’s when wikis and weblogs may begin to replace CMS’s and Doc Mgmt systems.
All this doesn’t stop us from implementing wikis and weblogs now as tools to foster collaboration and easy information publishing. That’s basically what I’m aiming to achieve at my company. Today I had a look at Twiki and I came across this excellent presentation by Twiki creator Peter Thoeny, which he made to LinuxWorld on 21 Jan 2004. There’s a lot of great advice in this presentation, but the things I want to highlight are his views on Knowledge Management. He makes the point that Knowledge Management is typically viewed as “control over content” and this is what conventional CMS’s aim to achieve. He argues that knowledge cannot be managed, it can only be enabled. This is a point that resonates with me, because I think that “knowledge” is subjective and therefore cannot be ‘captured’ as an objective entity. Information can be captured though – and that’s where wikis and weblogs come in. They enable anyone and everyone to capture (write down) information. Knowledge needs context – the reader’s.
This is all fine and dandy in theory, but the practical reality is I have to convince my company that wikis and/or weblogs are a viable KM solution. A lot of people still subscribe to the “top-down” approach of KM. With regard to Intranets, the top-down approach says that Intranet content needs to be controlled. That there needs to be a gatekeeper or webmaster who decides what is appropriate for publishing and what is not. Of course, I don’t agree with this approach – this weblog isn’t called Read/Write Web for nothing! To my way of thinking everyone has the right and ability to not just consume information, but produce it too. And this is the fundamental benefit that wikis and weblogs provide. The question is: are corporates ready for the read/write culture, or is the need to control information going to remain for a while yet? I’m asking this question in the context of a corporate Intranet, but it’s the exact same question being asked of journalism, politics, marketing weblogs, book publishing, music, etc etc.
All in all, my colleagues were open to using wikis and weblogs – as long as they’re targeted at the right problem and to the right audience. That is, ordinary people must be motivated to use the tools (“passionate” is a word that was used) and it must be a suitable context. For example, a Wiki could be used to enable communication between teams, as an alternative to team members using email to send and store work-related information. My colleagues are enthusiastic (albeit slightly skeptical) about me testing out these technologies and seeing what evolves. I’ll let you know how it goes!