RealTime IT News

Enterprise Knowledge The Wiki Way

NEW YORK -- Web 2.0 is finding its way into the enterprise by way of a Wiki.

Wikis , collaborative Web sites on which all members of a community can contribute and post, have become commonplace on the consumer Web.

Now, solutions such as Jotspot and Socialtext are finding their way into more business users' hands.

JotSpot, an early wiki hit with home users, now counts businesses such as eBay, Symantec and Oxford University Press as customers of its enterprise wiki applications for collaborating online.

Socialtext has just rolled out version 2.0 of its enterprise collaboration tool.

The new version includes an improved user interface, said Ross Mayfield, SocialText CEO, during the Interop conference here.

It also includes new application programming interfaces  that will enable developers to customize the wiki for their enterprise, and mash-up wiki functionality with other applications.

Andrew McAfee, associate professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School, who spoke alongside Mayfield, said wikis could enable organizations to use their enterprise applications more effectively.

"Most knowledge work is exception processing yanked out of an enterprise system," he said.

For example, business users are alerted by an ERP  system about excess inventory and then try to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, the knowledge of how a similar situation was dealt with in the past is usually contained in the head of a retired employee or buried in an unintelligible e-mail string.

McAfee suggested that users will eventually be able to open a window to SAP's  ERP within their Socialtext wiki.

More broadly, though, McAfee predicted wikis would succeed where other knowledge management solutions have failed because they harness social forces.

"This is not about the underlying technologies, this is about a social phenomenon," he said.

Mayfield made much the same point.

"The Internet has always been a social tool," he said. "Web 2.0 doesn't mean Ajax or RSS or any other buzzword. The Internet is made of people."

But Mayfield admitted that for wikis to succeed at the enterprise level, managers will have to refrain from imposing rules or ordaining certain members of the community as experts.

"If you're willing to share control, you might find something wonderful," he said.

McAfee said that wikis also provide basic tools, such as tagging, that allow structure and meaning to emerge from what can also look like a collaborative chaos of data.

But McAfee cautioned that wikis will not succeed unless substantially more users contribute content in the enterprise environment, compared to users in a consumer setting.

In the consumer version of Web 2.0, he said, only a very small percentage of users actually contribute to Wikipedia, the collaborative Web-based encyclopedia, compared to the number of users who simply use it to look up information.

"That's a vanishingly small number of contributors at the enterprise level," he said.

McAfee also said that managers may have to lower their profiles to boost the chances for wikis to succeed in the enterprise.

"There are no managers on the Internet," he noted. "That's why we love it so much."