I wrote a lengthy (2500+ words) article for the latest issue of the New Communications Review based on the reading I have been doing on wikis as we get ready to begin our wiki survey. I have copied the introduction below. For the whole article, visit here. As usual, I am interested in your feedback.
Thinking About Wikis
Many of us who are early adopters of this technology believe that the wiki is an intriguing collaborative tool that has the potential for vastly improving knowledge worker productivity. This goal, improving knowledge worker productivity, is one of the major organizational challenges of the 21st century, as recently discussed in the Economist survey of “The New Organization” in its January 21, 2006 issue. While there are a plethora of collaborative tools and technologies available today, what makes the wiki so interesting, and such a good candidate for research studies, is that it is the most radically open of all tools, enabling anyone to change anyone else's content in mere seconds. Therefore, it very quickly gets at the heart of the human, social challenges to managing and creating knowledge.
We at the Society for New Communications Research are about to embark on a study of wiki use. Our goal in our project is to study how knowledge workers in creative roles (advertising, marketing, public relations, design, etc.) are actually using wikis in the context of their everyday work. This should enable us to make some judgments about what features are helpful and what features are not. At that point, we can start making recommendations about best practices for wiki design.
In preparation for this study, we conducted a review of recent research and scholarly papers that have been produced on the topic of wikis.
As we evaluate the potential of wikis in organizations, several broad topic areas have presented themselves to us as critical to the success of a wiki. We won't have our results on our study for a few months, but in the meantime, we thought it would be useful to share with you these broad topic areas and some of the thinking and research that has been done to address them.
At the outset of our reading, it became very clear that any analysis of wiki usage will be multidisciplinary in focus. This, of course, did not surprise us, as all of these new participatory communications tools have the same attributes. In order to understand, design and successfully roll out a wiki, a familiarity with current knowledge and practices in areas as diverse as small group cooperation, knowledge management, individual psychology, societal norms and behaviors, and management skills and technical design. Below, we have identified some interesting sources of information that link each discipline with participatory communications. We share some of this thinking with you below. But first, we'll start off with a summary of some of the key challenges of collaborative systems that must be kept in mind when embarking on a wiki adventure.
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