Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 'Wiki' May Alter How Employees Work Together - 'Wiki' May Alter How Employees Work Together "Wiki is a Hawaiian word for "quick," and some say it has the potential to change how the Web is used.
A wiki is a type of Web site that many people can revise, update and append with new information. It's sort of like a giant bulletin board on an office wall to which employees can pin photos, articles, comments and other things.
A wiki can gather, in one place, the data, knowledge, insight and customer input that's floating around a company or other organization. And it's a living document, since workers who are given access to it can make changes constantly.
Despite its speedy name, the wiki is not a new idea. It was pioneered in the mid-1990s by a programmer named Ward Cunningham, who wanted to create a platform for freewheeling collaboration in software development. He named his effort WikiWikiWeb. The idea first caught on among other techies, who used wikis to collectively work on engineering projects.
Now, venture capitalists are funding several startups that are attempting to take the idea to a bigger and more lucrative general-business audience. Their goal is to try to solve one of the workplace's most vexing problems: how to have employees collaborate and communicate better electronically.
Coming up with a good solution to this problem long has been a quest of the tech industry. Big tech companies have responded with heavy-duty collaborative software packages, such as Lotus Notes and Workplace from International Business Machines Corp. These products usually are expensive, controlled from the top and difficult to implement and use. And e-mail -- the most common way workers share information -- is hard to search, leaves important data deeply buried within it and is highly vulnerable to viruses. Some analysts have dubbed collaboration via e-mail "occupational spam" -- endless, time-consuming and often pointless.
Indeed, the creation of communal fabric is one that a wiki revives, says Clay Shirky, an interactive telecommunications professor at New York University, who has written extensively about the beneficial uses of social software like wikis in the workplace. "It's got to be a fluid, ongoing conversation to work," he says, noting that too much emphasis on the Internet has been about attracting giant passive audiences to Web sites over which they have little control. "But suddenly, people are realizing that perhaps the most human value actually occurs in smaller groups."
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