How we’re using wikis to power knowledge-sharing communities
Okay, everyone knows about Wikipedia, the user-edited encyclopedia (actually, ecyclopedias as there are different versions around the world) with information on just about everything.
However, Wikipedia is not the only website — nor was it the first — to utilize the approach of allowing users to both read and edit the content of a web page. That style of website, nicknamed “wiki” after the Hawaiian word for fast (wikiwiki), was developed (and named) by Ward Cunningham in 1994. According to Wikipedia (we thought it only appropriate to cite the source), Cunningham was inspired by software we at Hammock loved back then, as well: Apple’s HyperCard.
At Hammock, we love wikis. That’s not surprising as we’ve been creating and managing wiki-like, online sharing communities for clients since the early 1990s. We were even forum sysops on CompuServe, for any of you who can recall that far back.
In 1999, we began the development of what turned into a massive knowledge-sharing user community called SmallBusiness.com. The site was way ahead of its time in what folks now call “social media.” While SmallBusiness.com was extremely popular with its nearly 100,000 registered users, the dot-com bust of 2001 nonetheless put our plans for SmallBusiness.com on hold. The overhead necessary to continue developing the proprietary platform on which the site ran proved too challenging during the early 2000s.
However, in 2005, we began to take note of what was happening at Wikipedia and determined that it employed the main principle on which we developed the first iteration of SmallBusiness.com: sharing knowledge at the grassroots level. Better yet, we observed that the site was running on open-source software using the kind of scrappy, low-overhead approach we were looking for to revive the popular service.
And so, in late 2005, we began work on launching a new wiki-powered SmallBusiness.com. We discovered that many of the lessons learned in our earlier experiences with online communities — or, as we like to call it, “conversational media” — worked well in the context of a wiki. The dynamics of community-building (motivations, identity, networking) seemed to translate well.
SmallBusiness.com — in addition to once more becoming the leading online sharing community of content contributed by small business owners and managers — is an incredible laboratory for the Hammock Team to experiment with ways that wikis can be used in the marketing, customer-care and membership-building efforts of our clients.
For example, in 2007, we created a wiki for the American Watercraft Association that serves as the hub of a wide range of information sharing among their members, owners of personal watercrafts. There’s even a part of that wiki that allows their members to share maps of their favorite places to use their PWCs.
While we still love publishing magazines and helping clients build traditional websites, our experience in creating and growing wikis and in helping clients develop engaging, valuable conversational media programs and platforms are also a part of our legacy — and future.