Five Things Wikipedia's Founder Has Learned About Online Collaboration

Jimmy Wales explains his views on effective collaboration, organization and what 'World of Warcraft' wiki writers can teach us about shared ideals.

By C.G. Lynch
Thu, June 28, 2007

CIO Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales discusses what it takes for effective groups to work, why speed is a big deal and more.

1) You need mechanisms in place for effective collaboration. Certainly, people can post bad things onto a wiki, a message board, or a mailing list. The real question is, What systems are in place to deal with this? The mechanisms of a wiki have proven highly effective and have to do with the ability of the community to revise the content or revert to a prior state, and the ability to block communication by people who are causing trouble.

2) Online identity is important. But requiring people to use real names online seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. When people decide to interact anonymously with no stable identity, then bad behavior is the usual result. The safeguard mechanisms mentioned above can address such a situation. Meanwhile, contributors who use a steady pseudonym can and do gain reputation capital in a way that establishes credibility just as a real name would offline.

3) A successful collaboration requires a shared vision. A good example of this is a successful wiki called wowwiki.com , a wiki about the online computer game World of Warcraft. There, participants work together successfully because they have a shared vision of the kind of work they are trying to complete: a comprehensive guide to all things World of Warcraft. We see the same pattern over and over: A charitable goal like that of Wikipedia is not necessary. Neutrality is not necessary. But a shared vision is.

4) Organizations are becoming flatter. Flat hierarchies are incredibly powerful and, due to technologies like wikis that allow peer-to-peer communication without a lot of barriers, flat hierarchies are taking hold across the business world. Maybe some people are hesitant, but there is an overwhelming adoption of collaborative technologies going on right now. If old-fashioned CIOs are not seeing this, they should be replaced.

5) Speed is incredibly important. A fast and flexible system will always beat a paranoid system that wants to get everything right before publication.

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