There have been a number of posts recently regarding the validity and role of wikis as an information delivery vehicle in a corporate setting. Part of the concern is the unregulated nature of how a wiki works. Because a public wiki includes user generated content, there is very little control over what gets posted by whom, when and how. The most common experience framework for wikis has been Wikipedia, and as several recent incidents have proven, user generated content is by definition subjective and therefore prone to manipulation. Besides self-serving manipulation of data within wikis, there is also the dynamic of the wiki mafia (wiki administrators deleting postings they disagree with). However, whether it’s bogus postings or nerds bullying each other, this particular tempest in a teapot is happening primarily in the context of a consumer application.
If we shift this dynamic into a more structured setting, e.g. user generated content that becomes part of a major corporation’s document repository, we are dealing with an entirely different set of circumstances. The flow of information, regardless of its end destination (marketing, customer support, operations, etc.), is normally under incredibly tight control.
The first loosening of this control was the rise of blogs; however, most corporate employees who blog also have the good sense to realize that what they say is getting blasted out across the web (specifically, across their boss’ desk), so career preservation tends to be a good content regulator. Compare this to personal blogs (particularly the anonymous ones), where anyone with an opinion can yell at the top of their lungs about anything with no consequences. Corporate blogs are a whole different animal and are much more tightly caged.
If you take the notion of a corporate blog and loosen the filters to "evolve" it to a wiki, is this the equivalent of letting a pack of hyenas into your living room? A lot of pundits seem to think so; however, with the proper review and approval mechanisms there is no reason to assume you can’t maintain the same level of control.
The benefits of a wiki as an input mechanism to a documentation process that previously sat behind an information firewall are vast. The people who are most likely to come up with good suggestions to improve a product are going to be: 1) people who are out in the field servicing the products day to day, and 2) people who are using the product and wish it worked better or differently. This is a huge, untapped resource for any manufacturer in nearly any vertical as long as the wiki input is pushed through a review and approval cycle. In fact, once this technology is deployed, your biggest challenge is going to be keeping up with all the good ideas that start streaming in.
About the Author
Dan Ortega is Vice President of Marketing at Astoria Software
. The company makes Astoria On-Demand -- an XML-based, DITA-compliant content management system.