Almost everyone who owns a computer knows about Wikipedia, the huge, do-it-yourself online encyclopedia. The software that makes Wikipedia possible is becoming increasingly easy to use, and corporate America is starting to embrace wikis as a tool for simple and swift collaboration.
In fact, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told Newsweek that the wikis are becoming mainstream, not just for "tech geeks." And in corporate settings, wikis break down barriers. "I think at a lot of organizations people get very frustrated by the overhead of just getting things done, which is why we've seen the wiki blow up in the corporate world. It just sweeps away a lot of the nonsense."
Wikis are simply web pages that anyone who logs on to a site can edit. That model is being used as a new form of teamwork in business. Market analyst IDC says one in four U.S. corporations already use wikis in some way, while tech consulting firm Gartner predicts that as many as half of the corporations will be using the technology by 2009, the (Toronto) Globe and Mail reported.
At Intel, for example, Intelpedia was set up two years ago to allow workers to team up on codes and designs for new products. News from company sailing and juggling clubs is posted there as well, prompting a total of about 30 million visits and 18,000 articles, according to Josh Brancroft, who started Intelpedia. A dictionary of company acronyms is Intelpedia's most popular page.
At Walt Disney's Pixar studio, wiki technology is helping workers coordinate new computerized animation tools for a film planed for 2008 called "WALL-E," The Wall Street Journal reported.
Wikis can document what workers just "know" in their heads, creating a vast repository of information. Prager, Sealy & Co., an investment firm in San Francisco, created a wiki with technical information for anyone in the company to access and edit. "So much of adapting to an organization is understanding who knows what, and where you go for information," IT director Aaron Hathaway told the Journal. "The system for collaboration is pretty broken."
Of course, a wiki is only as good as its content, so a neglected wiki isn't much help. Some observers have suggested that companies start small, introducing Web 2.0 technologies to small groups and then expanding as success spreads.
Lee Bryant, founder and director of Headshift Ltd., a United Kingdom tech consultancy, told the Journal: "Companies can get going with something quite simple and quite small very quickly, and they can grow from the bottom up. You get to learn from your mistakes, and you can stay under the radar until it's strong enough and people don't want to turn it off."
A recent survey, commissioned by Logicalis, suggests that companies should start working the bugs out of new technologies quickly. According to CNET, a survey of the attitudes of 13- to 17-year-olds shows that many fully expect to use Web 2.0 technology tools they've grown up with â wikis, social networks and blogs â in the workplace.
Wikipedia"s Jimmy Wales said wikis are for companies that are comfortable with trying something new. "A wiki is all about letting go of control, it's a real free-form attitude. So if you're an organization that's accustomed to doing things by committee after long deliberations, well, that's all going to changeâbut hopefully for the better."