Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wikis are a Powerful Knowledge Accelerator

The twenty first century is moving more rapidly than the last century.

Knowledge used to double world-wide in decades; three years ago knowledge doubled every twelve months. Today, we are doubling global knowledge in less than six months and are rapidly approaching a period where knowledge will double world-wide not just in days - but in seconds.

There has never been a period in mankind’s history where the fountain of knowledge has been flowing so rapidly. We continue to invent gadgets such as cell phones, iPods, RIMs, and other portable devices to help keep knowledge on point 24×7. The ubiquitous nature of knowledge transfer although has improved our access to know-how - it has also generated complexity in our ability to source the right knowledge in the right format at the right time. In some ways, imagine pouring a glass of water and the water runs over the top of the glass continually — this is the reality of today’s knowledge environment - there is tremendous knowledge captured - but easily finding it continues to be one of the catastrophe’s in managing intellectual assets.

Another relatively new source of knowledge capture and harvesting capability can be found in the usage of wikis. A wiki (sometimes wiki wiki) is a web application designed to allow multiple authors to add, remove, and edit content. The multiple author capability of wikis makes them effective tools for mass collaborative authoring.

Wikis enable rapid self-organizing and self-correcting knowledge capabilities and enable knowledge to be processed dynamically rather than other more traditional and highly structured sources of content management solutions. Users of wikis are allowed in real-time to agree or disagree in the sharing of content. In addition, this spontaneous flow of creativity and sharing of ideas may spark new insights contributing to innovation capacity development.

In San Diego County, the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) launched a program called mobile remote workforce innovation to improve services at risk to children and families, while decreasing costs. The economics of wikis supporting health care industries are very attractive, given the low cost of the software, and operating costs. Many of the leading Wiki Solution providers, like Atlassian, also donate the software for not for profit organizations - providing an additional incentive for organizations to take advantage of these types of solutions.

Isaac Jones Blog outlines three solutions for wiki applications which based on our working experience are all valid and accurate perspectives.

The first approach is using wikis for knowledge repositories - alot like an encyclopedia. We are using wikis in our client engagements so all of our client collateral is accessible via a wiki and at the end of our client projects, client can either pay a modest monthly fee for the knowledge to be maintained in our wiki environment, or transfer to their local servers. The opportunity to create these content management structures for ease of integrated collaboration are very powerful and effective communication approaches.

The second approach is for collaborative writing which is a bit like a more elegant version of emailing word documents. The ability to easily track document changes and allow the voice of multiple stakeholders to participate in the creation of a collaborative document we have used in our book publishing projects, and also in our market research projects.

The third approach is Situation awareness, which isn’t so different from the news; it draws from the news as a source, it can also be authored by the eye-witnesses themselves, and each story becomes an integral part of a knowledge repository. I don’t claim that these are an exhaustive, nor are they a partition: Wikis are also used for bug tracking and as web discussion forums, for instance.

In summary, wikis are a powerful knowledge accelerator and the market for these types of tools is exploding. IDC projects worldwide revenue growth of the overall collaboration market of 17% this year and 26% by 2011, with the fastest growth in live conferencing and team collaboration spaces. Forrester notes that Web 2.0-based social computing technologies are experiencing an explosion of innovation and proliferation, with many vendors incorporating blog and wiki technology into their products. A related development, mentioned by both Driver and Levitt, is the ability of newer tools to create mashups-essentially hybrid Web applications that contain content from multiple sources in a single user interface.

While Microsoft and IBM dominate many segments of the collaboration market-promoting one-stop shopping and integration across their products Google needs to be closed watched. The increasing breadth of Google’s productivity software includes email, calendaring, IM, word processing, spreadsheet, and Web site building and will soon add presentation graphics and wikis-all embedded with collaboration features. Google’s latest foray into making affordable messaging, collaboration, and office productivity tools targets business people worldwide and takes dead aim at Microsoft Office. . . . Google is not simply attacking Microsoft’s core email and office productivity applications business-Google is expanding the market for workplace productivity tools to include people who have traditionally been left without them.

One thing is for sure wikis have a strong future in the collaborative applications all aimed to improve knowledge worker productivity - finally some solutions which are firmly in the control of the end user community.

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