Does Wikinomics Have The Write Stuff?

Wikis are all about collaboration, so it perhaps is no surprise that the authors of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything have set up a wiki  to go with the best-selling book. In keeping with the wiki tradition, the Wikinomics wiki, hosted by Socialtext, lets its readers have the final say.

Popularized by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, wikis are a kind of collaborative Web site where users can edit, delete or modify the content. Wikinomics is about the growth of wikis as an important (the authors say “indispensable”) tool for business. The “final” chapter of the book is a wiki  created by its readers.

“The final chapter is published under a Creative Commons license. Some of the best ideas are there, but I can’t reuse it,” said Don Tapscott, co-author with Anthony Williams of Wikinomics. “It feels a little weird, but I know it was the right thing to do.”

In an interview with, Tapscott, a well-known business author and consultant, discussed why he thinks wikis are becoming an essential tool for business. He noted the main driver, collaboration, is nothing new to society or the technology space. “We were doing this kind of thing back in 1978 on dumb terminals at Bell Labs sharing Unix-based documents over the ARPAnet ,” he recalled.

But participation in the Internet age is quite another matter. Tapscott noted that his group created a structure for contributing to the final chapter and within 24 hours of posting it, online contributors had changed it. “At first, my reaction was, ‘What’s with that?’, but then we looked at it and saw there were some valid reasons for the changes. Now it’s getting a life of its own.”

Which brings up the issue of control that has sometimes bedeviled sites like Wikipedia. Gartner analyst Gene Phifer told in a recent article that he thinks corporate blogs and wikis will feature service level agreements (SLA) that determine who may or may not alter, edit or contribute to them.

Tapscott insists the “meritocracy” of the wiki brings the best ideas to the fore. He knows a bit of this from personal experience.

About eight months ago, an entry on Wikinomics said the theory of mass collaboration came from Don Tapscott. As he recalls, someone deleted the entry from Wikipedia about 15 minutes later because they weren’t sure of its validity. It reappeared after a long online debate. A recent search on Google for Wikinomics yielded 521,000 results.

“I think it’s now become part of the vernacular,” said Tapscott.

Wiki use is very much in its infancy but catching on in the corporate world. Socialtext said some 2,000 enterprises, including IKEA, Kodak, Nokia and Symantec, use its system to create custom wikis. “The many can create something as good as the Nobel Prize winners,” said Tapscott.

He said wikis offer the opportunity for companies to get their customers to “co-innovate” with them. He lists such corporate giants as Proctor & Gamble looking to wikis to help drive new ideas. “They expect half of their innovations to come from outside the company,” said Tapscott.

And whether you call it a wiki, the collaboration/customer participation phenomena is growing. He cites the Second Life virtual community as an example. “I think everyone missed what’s happening in Second Life,” said Tapscott. “It’s not a wacky virtual community; it’s a company where 99 percent of its products are made by its customers.”

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