How to Build Your Own Wikipedia

Wikis are useful business tools. With planning and some staff time, you can make your own online collection of useful articles, tailored to your organization's needs, to communicate about business processes, manage collective know-how and more.

This story was updated in the May 1, 2008 issue of CIO magazine to include new reporting. Read the latest story here.

A funny thing happened on the way to Web 2.0: Wikis went to work. Businesses are turning to wikis to cut time from projects, remain competitive and improve their processes.

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A wiki is a website that can be edited collectively by users at will. The most famous model is Wikipedia, the massive, user-generated encyclopedia. This shared-document model means wiki documents can be modified by anyone with access, adding and revising what's there. And while companies are using blogs to increase awareness within their organization about important events and projects, business executives, project managers and frontline employees are beginning to look at how internal wikis can help them be more efficient, to promote collaboration and make it easy for users to find and use information about business processes, company policies and more.

Wikis used for training, knowledge management, or to set business processes in place help companies organize and document their process while promoting collaboration among employees.

Before you set out to create a wiki to help manage your next project, there are necessary steps to go through in preparation for launching it companywide. You need to define the purpose of your wiki, pick the technology that is right for you and ask for feedback from test users. And once the wiki is up and running, you will need to be diligent about maintenance.

Why a Wiki? Make Sure You Know

If you can't clearly and simply state what you hope you accomplish by building and maintaining a wiki, then you aren't ready to get started.

Jeff Brainard, the director of product marketing at Socialtext, a hosted service and wiki software provider, says that if the scope isn't carefully defined, the wiki won't be off to a good start. Have lots of conversations about the purpose of the wiki and what improvements you hope it will make to a project or process.

Know that a clear focus is essential.

Pitfall to avoid: Brainard says, "80 percent of wikis fail because the scope wasn't clearly defined. The others succeed because of the mentality that was there going in."

Outline Your Wiki's Structure

The brainstorming and outlining stage is the best time to set up rules.

Define to what extent end users will be able to change each page of the wiki. Set standards for how administrators will respond to updates from users. During this stage, it's good to agree on big-picture plans as well as on more specific limitations, such as not allowing users to upload text files or videos.

The wiki's structure sets the tone for its future use, and thus its value.

Pitfall to avoid: Relaxing your control on the structure. Administrators of the wiki must keep pages and entries clean and orderly, or the wiki won't be useful to anyone and people will stop contributing and referring to it.

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