The Many Uses of Enterprise Wikis

Google Sites, part of the Google Apps suite, allows users to create intranets and websites without any programming knowledge. Scott Johnston, product manager of Google Sites, talks about what it takes to make a wiki implementation successful.

Back in November 2006, Google acquired Jotspot, a company that made wikis for businesses. But what Google did with Jotspot remained somewhat of a mystery until February, when Google launched Google Sites and officially added the Jotspot technology to the Google Apps portfolio.

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Built on Jotspot's wiki technology, Google Sites allows users to work in wikis for projects and build intranets and externally facing websites with no coding experience. Though first made available for business users of Google Apps, the service was released to consumers last week as well.

CIO sat down with Scott Johnston, senior product manager of Google Sites (and former vice president of products at Jotspot) at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., last week to talk about Google Sites and what types of use cases for the product have emerged since it launched.

Scott Johnston, senior product manager, Google Sites
Scott Johnston, senior product manager, Google Sites

CIO: So Jotspot went live for businesses using Google Apps back in February. What types of things have companies been using it for?

Johnston:There are a few top level cases we are seeing. One is Sites as an extension to the company directory. A lot of [organizations] are building profile sites for their employees with it. One customer, the District of Columbia government, has modified their HR processes so that when [employees] start there, they create a profile site, and that's where they add and modify all the information about what they're doing. So that's a really big use case, because I think it helps solve the "cube next door" problem. That's where you work on something, and six months into it you realize that someone who sits right next to you has a skill you needed all along to help you with your project.

For smaller businesses, Google Sites has been used to build intranet sites. As a small business, putting together an intranet has not been a trivial matter because only a few people can update them. With Sites, anyone [with access to the intranet] can have an edit button and update it. That helps the information stay fresh.

Another huge piece has been extranets, which is something I didn't expect as much uptake on this early. And yet, it turns out, I should have seen that coming. A lot of projects that cross companies, such as vendor management or a sales deal that has all the information about the sales engagement, can go into one place with Sites.

CIO: What barriers exist towards wiki adoption in the enterprise?

Johnston: There's a couple things that are barriers to wikis. The first and foremost: when people think wikis, they think about Wikipedia. And when they think Wikipedia, they think, everyone can edit this. That's actually a deal breaker for many companies because it's more than people can take right away. It's like trying to take a drink of water from a firehose. They look at it and say, "I can't afford that much of a lack of control." So this is why Gogle Sites has fine grain permissions. You can decide who can view and edit it. There is an access control layer around it in that way.

The second is wiki markup [language]. If you hit edit on a wiki and it takes you to a page with a language (such as HTML) that you're uncomfortable with, that's going to be a turnoff. So with Sites, you have an edit button there that you have access to, and there isn't this markup language [for end-users]. Making it look like a regular document makes it successful much faster.

CIO: So it's important to avoid making users code. Any other suggestions for how wikis can be successful when a company first implements them?

Johnston: Any good wiki implementation starts with getting good information in there. Seed it with something that people actually look for. Get information in there that people ask for all the time over e-mail.

We see that happen a lot with projects and product design. A lot of people will say, I added to the design and you can see it in the wiki. The whole thing just expands from there. You get your base of members who start to adopt, and they respond to e-mail questions with links [to the wiki]. The point at which you know have been successful is when people respond to e-mails and say "did you look at the wiki?"

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