3 reasons why i hate wikis, too

Stowe Boyd picked up a point from Ian Ketcheson who wrote: „Wikis: Am I the only one who gets frustrated?” No! Of course not! We poor enterprise wiki victims, we are all frustrated! And i can tell why, it’s no rocket science:

Wikis do not incorporate the time dimension.

Any enterprise wiki user knows the problem: there is a lot of outdated contents you have to deal with. Knowledge often has a short half‐life period and is useless afterwards. But nobody cleans up your knowledge base, because its all self organized and nobody is responsible. In effect, the ratio between useless and useful information gets worse and worse every day. There is no functionality that makes fresher information more relevant. Sometimes you might wish for an autodelete feature after some time…

Wikis are focused on documents, not people.

Wikis dissolve authorship”, Stepanie Booth makes this point in the discussion thread on Stowe’s post. Perfectly right. In a wiki, you don’t have the view on a specific person’s work. That’s a threat because of two reasons: first, people can’t be proud of their own work and show it to others, that will lead to decreasing motivation earlier or later. Second, other people can’t judge relevance of a piece of information because they don’t know who was the originator (this information is hidden in the version history).

Wikis require structured information force you to structure information upfront, which is a roadblock to information flow

A wiki is an approach to structured information – despite the loose linking of pages. You have to choose the place to leave your information first, and there are conventions that authors have to respect, e.g. summary and introduction at the top, references at the bottom etc. This makes a lot of work for you when you just have an idea or a thought that is worth to share with others. In the end people keep their information or – thats the case in the company where i work – they spam the staff mailing list.

What will work better than wikis for enterprise collaboration? Probably blogs do. I like Stowe’s idea of aggregating posts and comments via RSS to something like a discussion thread. I will think about it.

4 thoughts on “3 reasons why i hate wikis, too”

  1. Your first two points are well taken.

    I don’t see why wikis require structured information (your third point).

    Blogs are indeed the better tool for capturing and promoting ideas. Using a feed reader I can also keep track of distributed comments and trackbacks.

    As soon as multiple ideas need to be brought together, you are in a less person‐centered and more concept/content‐centered mode.

    How about an „author” tag cloud on each page showing who contributed to this page (perhaps in the last xx days only ) and a hot/cool color highlighting of recent modifications on a page to remedy your first two points?

  2. Florian,

    thanks for stopping by! And thanks for the comment. Seems i didn’t express my 3rd thought precisely (so i made some corrections).

    I think i wanted to say exactly what you mentioned: it is more powerful to leave the aggregation of information (the concept/content‐centered mode) to the person who is reading the information (e.g. by feed readers and filters).

    An „author” tag and a filter that makes old information disappear could be helpful, i agree.

  3. Hi Christian,

    I picked up this thread over at Ian’s site and followed your trackback here. We’ve been working on a „wiki‐inspired” product and have implemented it in a few corporate settings during the past year (more on the way soon). One of the reasons we’ve called it „inspired” and not a „true wiki” (whatever that is), is that we’ve taken the idea of anyone can edit anything and simplified the user interface experience. Cut and paste? Go for it. No wiki‐words required. We also use a typical content hierarchy to structure the content. Pages have parents and children, IA work is done ahead of time to structure your content in a meaningful way. Finally, we use faceted browsing techniques – controlled vocabularies and keywords, to give the users some power in classifying their content, and eventually finding it in multiple sections. If you’ve given up entirely on any of that: use search. That option still works well.

    I blogged yesterday about how people are in fact a central method of navigation and how important that is. Beyond the fact that the content exists and you can search for it, the relationship between people and content, and the social processes it exposes (content as signifier of the action of work) is really what people care about in an enterprise setting. Who wrote that document? Who’s their boss? Who reports to them? What project at they working on? And so on.

    So while Stephanie says wikis disolve authorship, we tend to feel like they enhance it. The person who created the document is still a strong force and ultimately the owner of that document – we keep that central to our model, but encourage collaboration around the artifact by lowering the barrier to having „regular users” edit content online…

    Some general thoughts. Insights much appreciated.


  4. Working with our enterprise wiki every day, I would like to add two more observations:

    1. Authors are often uncertain where to create a new page when they first decide to write about a concept. This is often the case when it is not yet clear, what the final page will contain (will this page stay a list of my personal notes or will it evolve into a document with high utility for other users?). So in many such cases, authors will decide to create the new page in their own „personal space” of the wiki, planning to move it somewhere central once the page grows and gets more structured. Of course, that never happens and information remains distributed across peoples „personal spaces”. The outcome is not so different from a blog, but is harder to maintain due to its non‐linear structure.

    2. I could live with all these issues and agree with Gordon who says, „use search”. In a world with Google, it just seems so natural access information through search. However, our enterprise wiki’s search implementation is a pain and makes discovery of useful content almost impossible. Wiki vendors need to make search one of their top priorities, otherwise all that valuable information will remain forever undiscoverable.

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