Magazine article Communication World

Wiki: The New Way to Collaborate: Never Heard of Wiki? If You're Choking on E-Mail in Your Rich-Media, Real-Time, Time-Strapped Work Environment, It May Be Just What You're Looking For

Magazine article Communication World

Wiki: The New Way to Collaborate: Never Heard of Wiki? If You're Choking on E-Mail in Your Rich-Media, Real-Time, Time-Strapped Work Environment, It May Be Just What You're Looking For

Article excerpt

A wiki is the ultimate collaborative tool for a group of users, even on a global scale, especially if they want to create and edit content on the fly as a project moves forward.

Why should anyone in their right mind pay attention to an oddly roamed phenomenon called wiki? As a communicator, you probably have the same feeling as when you first heard about "that h-t-t-p-colon-forward-slash-forward-slash thing," extranets or hypertext, or, more recently, Bluetooth or even blogs.

Wiki is not described with the same passion as blogs, but it appears to have inhaled the same oxygen. It's as if the people on the fringes, sick and tired of corporate communication, went ahead and designed a product-slash-platform that was democratic, dynamic and not managed from the top. Blogging, says PR practitioner Mike Manuel, helped "to psychologically acclimate people to publishing content online, which has in turn really primed the pumps for wikis." Manuel works for Voce Communications, a Palo Alto, California, firm that represents JotSpot, one of the earliest commercial versions of wiki. Coming from someone who writes about such provocative topics as "Is PR necessary?" when he evangelizes the power of blogs and wikis, Manuel's comments cannot be taken lightly. A wiki, he says, is an essential tool in every PR practitioner's toolbox.

So what's a wiki, anyway? Pronounced "wicky," it refers to an editable web site or document stuffed with content that is never permanent and is marked up by hypertext. You don't need to learn HTML to use it. Wiki, incidentally, is the Hawaiian word for "quick."

"Listservs on steroids"

A wiki taps into the "wisdom of the mob" principle and encourages end users to add and edit content so that content is always in a state of flux. Sounds like an open source encyclopedia, you say? That's perhaps the nearest analogy, but it's not even close. A wiki is the ultimate collaborative tool for a group of users, even on a global scale, especially if they want to create and edit content on the fly as a project moves forward--an area where e-mail is extremely unhelpful.

Just ask Constantin Basturea, a Romanian-born communication professional based in Florida who is an authority on using wikis in PR. Basturea has set up at least three wikis for different purposes, including the NewPRWiki. A year ago he set up the wiki for Global PR Blog Week. Wikis are finding their place because e-mail is really an "information graveyard," he says, unsuitable to the task of real teamwork. "Wikis are a very simple, intuitive, flexible, nontechnical, easy way of facilitating collaboration or sharing."

That suggests wikis are more participatory--what Dan Forbush calls "listservs on steroids." But Forbush, the president of Profnet, a professional networking organization, doesn't see wikis as a substitute for e-mail or the web.

"E-mail is powerful for a lot of reasons, but collaboration is not one of them," he says. E-mail limits people to "silos," while wikis set them free. To demonstrate this, Forbush agreed to conduct our interview by--you guessed it-setting up a wiki. Profnet's wiki, called EditMe, uses a WYSIWYG editor and is extremely versatile. (WYSIWYG, pronounced "whiz-ee-wig," stands for "what you see is what you get" and is an application that allows users to see on their computer screen exactly what will appear on the printed document.)

The value of a wiki site grows as more people start using it. …

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