Wikis Within the Enterprise: Serious Collaboration

Wikis began as free, open, public spaces for anyone at all to contribute and share their knowledge, expertise and wisdom. Businesses have begun to recognize, however, the power of the wiki model for accomplishing internal collaborative tasks, like revising human resources documents, producing specifications, and communicating across time and space.

Call it “Wiki 2.0” — and it’s the newest thing in enterprise software.

“The wiki is a tool that groups can use as an extension of their workspace,” wiki expert Stewart Mader, publisher of the site Grow Your Wiki, told LinuxInsider.

Sure, there’s e-mail, that old standby. People can e-mail each other drafts of documents, comment on them, and e-mail them back. Still, that can get cumbersome and difficult, particularly when large groups are involved.

“The problem with e-mail is that it’s difficult to carry on a group conversation,” Mader said. “It’s not great when you have 10 people trying to put together a project.”

New News

Looking at the workspace of Traction Software’s Traction TeamPage is like looking at a cross between a news Web site and Wikipedia. There are headlines highlighting the latest updates on the site, news briefs about what various departments are working on within the space, and continually updated feeds from contributors across the site.

“You can use the sections to produce something that has a news feel,” Traction Software’s Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Jordan Frank told LinuxInsider. “The way that the information is organized and navigated is the same way that a newspaper is organized.”

Founded in 1996 and based in Providence, R.I., Traction Software produces business enterprise software built around collaborative wiki models. Its Traction TeamPage product is enterprise software that provides wiki, weblog, document management, threaded discussion and search features.

“The platform solves the problems inherent in communication over time and collaboration in place,” Frank said. “It gives you these powerful tools to slice the information however you want to. This is not something you get out of normal wikis.”

Traction TeamPage offers a platform for businesses to create and revise documents, comment on ongoing projects, share ideas and collaborate. It uses a wiki model, complete with tags, revision history, and other features that wiki users have come to know and love. It also gives businesses the ability to organize, sort and categorize the information in creative and unique ways.

“It’s a new cognitive model,” Frank declared. “It’s not just the features across the board, though all of those in Traction are best in class. What makes this product do exceptionally well is the way these features work together to solve business problems.”

Text Goes Social

Another company, the Palo Alto-based Socialtext, is combining the best features from wikis, social networks and digital dashboards to fine tune the art of collaboration.

The company’s software focuses on sharing information among departments and divisions, and also among businesses, customers and clients. It can be used by and between various departments in any kind of business, including marketing, sales, service and support, professional services, partner management and business development.

“It really is across all industries, so it’s not like we’re doing vertical solutions,” Ross Mayfield, Socialtext’s president and cofounder, told LinuxInsider. “It’s not just about collaboration within a department, but collaborating across departments.”

To expand the functionality of its wiki software, Socialtext has several modules that help users arrange, manage and interpret the information that finds its way into the wiki.

Socialtext People, for instance, is a social networking component of the software that lets users create profiles, track each other’s comments and revisions, and find people in and outside the company with shared interests or expertise.

“It’s like Facebook for enterprise,” Mayfield said. “Whenever I’m looking at a page, I get context. I can see who’s done what.”

Socialtext Dashboard is another module that helps users of the software manage their workspace. It provides the capability of organizing information into a user-friendly homepage, complete with feeds from friends, colleagues and clients; updates; and news stories.

“Wikis can become a little disorienting,” said Mayfield. “It’s hard to manage your attention across a wiki community. That’s where Socialtext Dashboard comes in.”

The main goal of Socialtext’s software and its various modules is to humanize information and, ultimately, to facilitate and enhance collaboration.

“I’m not just following changes in information, but I’m following people,” Mayfield explained. “There’s an element of social discovery.”

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