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Posts tagged ‘collaboration’

The Way of the Wiki

Today's Best of Mike Series post comes from April 7th, 2005. It is apropo to the project I am currently leading at work and was interesting to re-read these thoughts from 4 years ago. Enjoy!

 The Way of the Wiki

What's a Wiki you may ask? Check out it's definition at perhaps the greatest example of them all – Wikipedia.

My job as a technologist is to figure out innovative ways to allow non-technologists to perform their job functions better. In the old IT model, we focused on centralized processes – forcing people into certain models. There were many good reasons for this – supportability being one of the keys (that's just another word for control).

Along came the concept of alignment. IT departments became concerned with whether their initiatives were meeting the current needs of the organization and whether they were structured to fit the overall strategy of the company. Knowledge management caught on to some extent, and companies used products like Lotus Notes to enable collaboration to take place on a grander scale. Conversations could be turned into documentation and shared with the masses. But this technology still relied on centralization.

We are now entering a phase where IT departments won't be focused on alignment, but rather convergence. I think you will still have a core IT group focused on internetworking, storage, server farms and support – but the analysts, developers, technical writers, etc will be more integrated into business units rather than centralized in IT. Granted, this will probably take a long time, but it is a move toward decentralization and is clearly putting technologists at the edge of the network.

Moving collaboration and the supporting structures to the edge of the network is one of the first challenges we face. If you untether the developers and so on from their IT silo, they will need tools to allow them to quickly construct their support mechanisms. These tools need to be lightweight and fast.

I think the wiki will be one of these tools. And I'm not sure that a formalized IT process will actually bring it in the door. Compare the way of the wiki to the way Blackberrys entered the enterprise. Most IT shops I know did not embrace the Blackberry at first. It was the demands of their business users that brought them in the door. We were then left scrambling to do risk analyses, training, and infrastructure upgrades in order to support this "disruptive" technology.

I'm looking to avoid incidents like the one the Blackberry brought about. I am evaluating each of the problems we see in the environment against all of the tools that are sitting on the landscape and I think I have found one that a wiki system just might solve.

Recognizing change is the first step toward embracing it.

Automating Affinity

One of the key outcomes my project at work seeks is to assist employees in finding people and information relavant to their needs. One way that we are attempting to accomplish this is by bringing social search results onto the same page as our intranet search results. We will be displaying "Related People", "Related Communities" and "Related Bookmarks" in a right-hand panel. The relatedeness is based on the search term(s) the user entered.

This is a first step in the right direction, but in the minds of many might seem primitive. If you are a member of Facebook, you have no doubt seen the "People You Might Know" section towards the bottom right of the home screen. While cool, this is based on some simple factors – age, schools and employers seem to be the primary drivers (although I'm sure there's a little Friend-of-a-friend logic factored in as well). While on the surface this type of algorithm may seem like it fits the needs of the enteprise – it really does not. We are not trying to find "People you may know". The goal is to find people you SHOULD know in order to share knowledge, build a better product, or have a better workplace.

Is this possible? I have no doubt that it is. I also have no doubt that you need to have a base collection of artifacts, digital footprints if you will, in place to have enough evidence in place to make such a suggestion. In that regard, I believe we are approaching the problem domain correctly. Of course as with everything else I have done over the past year, I am sure that there are many more layers to this onion that will throw new wrinkles and challenges my way.

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