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ApplesAndOranges.jpgLast week Martin Seibert at Seibert Media wrote an interesting blog post where he evaluated SharePoint as an enterprise wiki.
He posed the question, is SharePoint really a good alternative to a fully developed company wiki? He draws his conclusion early and then presents a list of compelling arguments as to why SharePoint is not a good wiki alternative. He cites many feature-specific examples like

it cannot be implemented as a an extranet wiki because it only supports Internet Explorer.

Martin’s post is a must-read for anyone considering using SharePoint in place of an enterprise wiki.
What about future versions?
While Martin does a great job describing the state of things today, the question remains as to what tomorrow will bring for SharePoint wikis. After all, Office 14 is supposedly just around the corner, right? Can’t Microsoft just address some of these feature gaps in their next release? How hard can it be to add Firefox support or support for wiki markup?
A Different Approach
In all fairness to Microsoft, SharePoint is not designed to be an enterprise wiki alternative. That’s why the The SharePoint Dev Wiki is built on Confluence. SharePoint 14 will address many of the complaints made by SharePoint wiki users, but an enterprise wiki is not so much a bundle of features as it is a philosophical approach to collaboration. It’s about transforming your corporate culture into an opt-in culture. Here are four reasons why SharePoint doesn’t try to be an enterprise wiki:

  1. Security model – Martin explains that:

    In MS SharePoint, new elements are often published and available only for the user themselves.

    SharePoint takes a security approach opposite to that of an enterprise wiki. An enterprise wiki assumes openness within your company and restricts access only on an as-needed basis. As Walton Smith of Booz Allen Hamilton told me this morning,

    The goal of Enterprise 2.0 is to have complete openness and transparency within the confines of a secure employee community.

    In other words, keep the bad guys out but ensure that your employees can see content from all across the organization.

  2. Desktop focus – SharePoint was designed as an extension of MS Office to provide online storage and better sharing of Microsoft Office documents. In fact a recent report shows that SharePoint customers primarily use it for file sharing. While Microsoft may invest in improving the SharePoint wiki template, their core focus will remain on desktop integration. The majority of your SharePoint content will continue to reside inside Word, Excel and PowerPoint files uploaded to SharePoint. An enterprise wiki like Confluence, on the other hand, strives to make all your content viewable and editable right inside of the browser. (Confluence 2.10 even lets you view MS Office documents without opening them.) A wiki is browser-centric while SharePoint is desktop-centric.
  3. Overwhelming Economics – Microsoft’s desktop approach is understandable when you look at the underlying economics. About 30% of Microsoft’s total revenue (~$18 billion annually) comes from Office, most of which is comprised of desktop productivity apps. Why in the world would Microsoft suddenly tell customers to start creating and sharing content inside of a browser-based wiki when they make literally billions of dollars from their Office desktop apps? It would be corporate suicide to transfer their devoted corporate Windows/Office users at $300 or more per seat to a browser-based wiki at <$50 per seat.
    Others have noted this challenge in other areas of Microsoft's business. As Robert Scoble once identified:

    Being tethered to its Windows cash cow limits Microsoft from competing effectively against Google in online advertising.

  4. Comments – Martin points out that:

    SharePoint has no comments – or discussion function, which is the norm in well-developed wiki systems.

    SharePoint does have built-in discussion boards but they’re much different than comments at the bottom of a Confluence wiki page. Comments in a wiki page allow a conversation to evolve from the content in the body of the page. For example, if I write a marketing white paper in a Confluence wiki page, other Atlassian employees can contribute by commenting directly in the page or even editing the page itself. This notion is quite different than the SharePoint approach which treats your documents and conversations as separate entities.

Understand the Difference
Document-centric collaboration systems like SharePoint certainly have a place in the universe. Atlassian has always maintained that SharePoint is an excellent tool for storing and managing online Office documents. That’s why we partnered with Microsoft to build the SharePoint Connector. Martin’s post forces us to think about the differences between the wiki way of collaborating and the SharePoint way of collaborating. Those differences run deeper than a few superficial features like browser support and wiki markup. At it’s core, Sharepoint strives to be something different than an enterprise wiki.

***Added on March 7, 2009***
Coincidentally, the day I posted this ThreeWill launched their SharePoint Depth Community built on Confluence. Read the full press release here.

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