Until they heard of the controversial website WikiLeaks, many people thought the word “wiki” and the website Wikipedia were synonymous.
Today, there are countless wikis, many built using the same approaches and software used by Wikipedia. SmallBusiness.com, a wiki created and managed by Hammock, is one of them. Other wikis use different software, different approaches and are so different looking from Wikipedia, you may not even realize they’re wikis. (Ironically, there’s nothing about the software or approach used by the website WikiLeaks that is a wiki as popularly defined.)
Wikis don’t have to look like Wikipedia or be encyclopedias. They don’t even need to have pages that can be edited by visitors to be wikis. The truth is, there are lots of ways wikis can be created, managed and used.
Here are examples of a few ways companies are taking advantage of the potential and flexibility of wikis:
1. An Industry Database That Serves as a Storefront
Today, the Internet Move Database is likely the most complete collection of information related to the creators of movies, television shows and videogames. Started as an e-mail listserv by movie buffs, IMDB is today owned by Amazon.com and has 45 million visitors each month. While it only recently has started using the word “wiki” to describe itself, the project always has depended on the information and editorial contributions of its users and other wiki-like approaches.
A recent redesign of the site makes it easy to see the parts of each page that are suggested by users. The new look also demonstrates clearly how seamlessly Amazon has evolved the service from a community-oriented fan site into a storefront for DVDs and streaming video offerings, along with film-related services (tickets, rentals) from third-parties who pay Amazon a commission. The site also generates revenue from advertising (it has 1.4 billion page views each month) and from special subscription services for industry professionals.
Quick answer: A wiki can add order to chaos.
While some parts of a corporate or organization website need to support a constant flow of news and announcements, there are many forms of content that are evergreen. Think of all the elements of descriptions, procedures, ideas and specifications that customers and employees use daily. This type of content is the workhorse of many websites: the less glamorous but more helpful “how-tos” that people need for solving problems. The wiki platform is an ideal solution for organizing such content into understandable taxonomies, recognizable hierarchies, categories or topics — in a way that helps users find the information they need.
2. A Conversation and Resource Database for Professionals
While you certainly know Intuit for its popular software products and services used by consumers and small businesses, the company is also a major business-to-business marketer, providing a line of products and services for professional bookkeepers and accountants. In addition to the resources the company provides this customer group on its own branded site, Intuit.com, the company also hosts an open-source and Wikipedia-modeled site: TaxAlmanac.org. With no marketing support, the site has more than 40,000 registered users (limited now to professionals) and over 150,000 pages of information and discussions. Unlike IMDB.com, the site downplays direct sales and limits its promotion to a small banner link in the navigation bar.
3. Knowledge Sharing Communities for Customers and Employees
New customer service platforms like GetSatisfaction.com are incorporating wiki-like features into forum-model customer-service communities. As we do with SmallBusiness.com, GetSatisfaction uses the term “knowledge base” to describe its features that help transform recurring discussions into frequently asked questions and featured content. Companies like SAP are utilizing wiki approaches to build similar knowledge-sharing communities among customers. Even the U.S. State Department has an employee-only wiki, and U.S. intelligence agencies jointly use a highly secured version of MediaWiki for managing an inter-agency knowledge-sharing wiki called Intellipedia. But don’t confuse that with Intelpedia, the in-house wiki that has been edited by 10,000 Intel employees and whose most popular section is a dictionary of acronyms used throughout the company.
4. A Platform for Creating Customized Digital and Printed Books and Manuals
Currently, the Hammock team is working with a healthcare company in developing a wiki that is being used for editorial collaboration among subject-area experts and healthcare professionals. While the wiki platform is ideal for collaborative editing and categorization of online content, some developers are beginning to add features to wikis that allow users to collect and edit wiki content that can be published as print or electronic books and manuals. PediaPress is an early example of this approach. By using the company’s “book creator,” Wikipedia users already have compiled hundreds of such books that can be purchased — or you can create your own book right on Wikipedia.
Bottom line: Wikis have been called the ugly duckling of social media, but those who have realized their potential — beyond Wikipedia — are discovering wikis are growing up to have a special beauty, all their own.