Building a Better (and Useful) Corporate Intranet Starts With a Wiki

A marketing firm used a wiki to build a new corporate intranet full of user generated content, making it more helpful than a run-of-the-mill phonebook directory. The reason for their success? They picked a wiki with a simple interface that keeps barriers to entry for users as low as possible.

When Matthew Schultz started at iCrossing in February, a digital marketing firm, he realized his company had a knowledge management challenge. As the company expanded through acquisition, there wasn't a fundamental method or technology to harness institutional knowledge.

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"We're adding not only products, but we were growing in people and the knowledge they bring," says Schultz, the company's VP of technology. "We needed a way to put all this knowledge in one location."

The existing corporate intranet was typical: a phone directory, a few uploaded corporate documents, and no way to update it without getting help from the IT department, which was consumed with running critical corporate applications.

"IT wants to help, but they can only do so much," Schultz says. "We needed something that was not only for the employees, but by the employees. I wanted us to build a wikipedia for the company and I wanted to make it the reference point for iCrossing's knowledge."

He needed to buy a wiki, a technology that allows users to update web pages often with no programming experience or knowledge of HTML code. He chose Socialtext, the Palo Alto company that made its mark selling wikis to enterprises and has since added corporate social networking profiles and a microblogging tool (a Twitter for the enterprise) to its portfolio.

While many wiki companies started out in the consumer space by offering free wikis supported by ad models during the height of the Web 2.0 era, Socialtext has made its business on selling wikis to businesses, something Schultz found attractive when he shopped around.

Like many wikis, Socialtext has a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor instead of requiring users to code HTML.

"That was attractive to me," Schultz says. "The software also doesn't have too many bells and whistles, which I actually think is a good thing. We wanted the barrier of entry to be as low as possible."

The Socialtext WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor
The Socialtext WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor. Matthew Schultz, VP of technology at iCrossing, says it has made it easy for users to start using a wiki right away.

Socialtext will offer their product as a hosted service or on-premise in a hybrid model, where the customer purchases a Socialtext appliance while Socialtext handles all the support for the wiki. Schultz and iCrossing opted for the latter.

Socialtext installed the appliance in April. Schultz started by offering the Socialtext wiki to what he described as managers and "thought leaders" at the company. They seeded it with some core content (such as company information about the company and where it has offices), but then expanded it to include important industry knowledge.

For instance, because iCrossing is a digital marketing company, it focuses quite a bit on search engine optimization. As such, employees track lots of information and news articles about Google. Using RSS technology and the ability to deep link within the wiki, they began chronicling information for employees to read about the search giant.

Shortly after, they opened it up to all 600 of the company's employees. Schultz says the wiki's simple interface has made it easy for them to get on board and begin using it. They have added job postings from HR and also specific pages dedicated to projects and industry news.

"Instead of a top down intranet, it became bottom up," he says.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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