Enterprise Wikis Seen As a Way to End 'Reply-All' E-Mail Threads

Socialtext's president and co-founder talks about wikis as an enterprise collaboration tool and what wikis mean to companies, their IT departments, and a whole new generation of workers.

By C.G. Lynch
Fri, March 14, 2008

CIO — Back in 2002, Ross Mayfield co-founded Socialtext, a company that sells enterprise wikis to companies looking to collaborate on key projects, improve products and customer service.

True to form for a Silicon Valley start-up, Mayfield and his co-founders started the company with $5,000 cash and a $400 eMachine as the company's first server, which the 37-year-old president and chairman now uses as a stand for the monitor in his office at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto. Since its founding, Socialtext has taken a few healthy rounds of venture capital funding, and claims the likes of companies such as Kodak, Dell and Nokia on its customer list.

CIO's C.G. Lynch chatted with Mayfield to see what the Socialtext wiki is all about, and what it might mean to companies with traditional IT systems.

CIO: Tell me about how you came up for the idea for Socialtext.

Mayfield: Back in 2002, I co-founded the company with three other people. What we saw were these new kinds of tools emerging in the middle of the first recession for the Valley. A lot of blogging took off solely because of the high rates of unemployment. We saw an opportunity with these tools, which were first arising for consumers, to adapt them for enterprise use. I wanted to start an enterprise blogging company, but was smart enough to listen to my co-founder and CTO who showed me what a Wiki was as well. We picked that as the starting point for this journey.

Ward Cunningham invented the wiki 11 years ago. Initially as an open source tool, the dominant use of Wikis was a small engineering group using it for project communication and lightweight documentation, and as a result accelerating project cycles. Then as we came on to the scene, one of the things we focused on was making these tools simpler and easier to use for regular business people. So the use case shifted, at least for us, to non-technical users using it as a general and simple collaboration tool.

Why wikis and other pieces of social software for the enterprise? What's wrong with current corporate systems?

Mayfield: The way organizations adapt, survive and be productive is through the social interaction that happens outside the lines that we draw by hierarchy, process and organizational structure. The first form of social software to really take off to facilitate these discussions was email. The "reply all" feature was fantastic for forming groups, communicating, and getting some things done, but it's also been stretched thin. Because of its popularity, we use it for everything. It creates what the Gartner Group calls occupational spam, and it makes up 30 percent of email. It's when you CC, blind CC, or reply to all. Consistently, with our customer base, that 30 percent moves over to the wiki. So e-mail is a big part of it.

Continue Reading

Our Commenting Policies