I love Wikipedia. Not due to its contents, but due to the way it helps me explain my work. You see, whenever I tell people that I work for a company that makes a wiki, I only get a blank stare in return. But when I explain that it’s like Wikipedia, their eyes light up and they instantly understand.
However, Wikipedia is not the real world.
I’ve learned this from my time working at Atlassian, where using our enterprise wiki is standard behaviour. We store our corporate knowledge on the wiki, host discussions on the wiki, share our personal joys and frustrations on the wiki. However, Wikipiedia is not the real world. Allow me to explain…
“It’ll be vandalised!”
This is the first thing people say when they conceive of a wiki within the enterprise. However, it simply isn’t the case, for several reasons:

  • All edits are tracked by name and date — simply turn off anonymous access!
  • The content is written by fellow staff members so it’s less likely people will want to offend
  • Politics, religion and sport are rarely the topic of enterprise wikis, so people aren’t driven to vandalism due to emotional reasons

“I don’t want people editing whatever they want!”
Our internal wiki at Atlassian can be edited by anyone in the company, with the only exception being the staff HR policy pages. Strangely enough, however, I have noticed that very few people update another person’s pages even though they have the ability and social permission to do so. Instead, the practice has arisen to add comments to pages rather than edit.
I’m not sure why this is — perhaps people think that editing is tantamount to trespass. Perhaps it’s because opinion is not fact, so they’d rather add their opinion as a comment or suggestion, and let the original author update the page as appropriate. Nonetheless, it suggests that Wikipedia is not the real world.
“A wiki is fine for reference material, but not for communication”
Not so. Communication is alive and well thanks to Confluence’s News and Comments capabilities.
News is like posting your own blog — readers can even subscribe via an RSS feed. Within Atlassian, we use News to inform staff about upcoming events, discuss product features and swap interesting stories. Unlike e-mail, the News is kept on the wiki, available for future reference and commenting.
Comments are, indeed, the currency of the Internet. Amazon’s product reviews are a perfect example. It’s a way people can contribute to existing information. Our public documentation for Confluence is another example. People can not only read the documentation, they can comment on it.
The ability to comment on pages can also be found on Wikipedia, but it is hidden behind Wikipedia’s Discussions tab. It’s just one big page that people can edit, which makes it hard to follow the flow of conversation. Comments in Confluence, however, show who said what and when, and even includes a picture of the contributor.
“I don’t want people wasting their time posting silly information”
Welcome to the world of Knowledge Management. It’s only by encouraging staff to post information that knowledge is built and maintained. People aren’t your most important asset — their knowledge is! Are you capturing your knowledge, or is it walking out the door each night?
“My staff would never use a wiki!”
You’ll never know unless you try. People aren’t paid to use Wikipdeia, but they still use it. Maybe you just need ways to encourage wiki adoption.
Just remember — Wikipedia is not the real world. But it is close. 🙂

Wikipedia is not the real world...