Friday, May 19, 2006

Corporate Blogs Unplugged

Third Thursday -- a Silicon Valley monthly meet-up on social media -- kicked into high gear last night with a panel talk on corporate blogging. PR reps from Cisco, Network Appliance and Ingres spoke what it takes to run a successful blog program inside a corporation today.

We knew this already from our own experience with SV clients, but last night provided ample evidence: smart businesses are not only blogging, but are already innovating. No way to learn but to do, and these three companies among many others are doing it.

We're co-organizers of this meetup, and next month it's our turn to play host. The theme is still under construction, but the general focus is a subject that's near and dear to the Eastwick practice: community.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wik-Ed: Teach the World to Wik

As promised, we've launched a new wiki to continue our exploration on best-practices in wiki-based collaboration. Like most wikis, this is a WorkInProgress, and we are starting small, and we are advancing incrementally. The first "project" is "33 Wikis" -- we're asking people to visit these pages, comment/edit/add, and list and describe wikis that we missed in our 33-day survey. We'll be adding many new wikis ourselves, but we're hoping the community of wiki watchers will help to build the content on this site, a new venue for people and businesses interested in educating themselves on how to build and maintain vibrant communities.

33 Wikis: #33 -- Wikipedia -- Making the Case for Wikis

This is the thirty-third installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. Tomorrow, we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: by far the most popular and populated wiki community, Wikipedia is the world's largest online encyclopedia, with more than 1,000, 000 articles in circulation. But it is so much more. Wikipedia has spawned all sorts of related wiki projects including Wikinews, one of the earliest and most vibrant citizen journalism sites; Wikimedia Commons, an open repository of graphic images; and MediaWiki, a free wiki platform that many of the best public-interest wikis are built on today (just look at the other 32 wikis featured in this series, and you will see).

Why we like it: Projects like Meatball and WikiWikiWeb have taught many net-savvy folks about the why and how of constructing wikis. Wikipedia extends the classroom to a much larger world. We spoke this morning to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and he told us about the early days. His original idea, Nupedia, was a "Web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by experts and licensed as free content." But they soon ran into content-management problems. After experimenting with a wiki tool, they quickly saw they light. "In two weeks, we were able to do more than what we accomplished in two years." But we also like Wikipedia because of the principles they have held since the beginning of the project. The organization has has steadfastly held true to the wiki way -- open, free, and easy-use. BTW -- Wales didn't meet Ward Cunningham, "father" of the wiki, until 2005. Still, if Cunningham is the promethean teacher of the wiki, Wales is his most prodigious student. By staying true to basic wiki principles, Wales has evolved the site from an odd-but-interesting project to a serious rival to not only Encyclopedia Britannica, but to other online news sources as well. Organically and naturally optimized for the post-Google world, Wikipedia is now the default reference for many consumers and professionals who spend most of their days on the Web.

What we all can learn from it: If all Wales and company did was to make the world's most popular online reference, that would be no mean feat. In many ways, the encyclopedia -- a selective yet exhaustive compedium of all we know -- historically has always represented the ultimate "knowledge management" project. So if Wikipedia can manage an encyclopedia better -- more posts, more current information, and just as reliable as other sources -- what could be a better way of proving the usefulness of this new approach called wiki. Never mind that Wikpedia can often be wrong; other references are wrong nearly as often, and at least you can correct Wikipedia. And never mind that Wikipedia is not the most beautiful thing to read (as more than one cranky blogger has complained, pining, we suppose, for the days when most of the literate the world read Diderot -- sure); Wikipedia's commitment to fairness and "neutral point of view" more than compensates. And with the monumental achievement of Wikipedia under his belt, Wales is looking to enable people -- the wise crowd that has made Wikipedia such a success -- to extend the power of wiki to capture other "varieties of human experience" with free tools such as MediaWiki, and with community platforms like Wikia, the first commercial (ad-supported) venture to emerge from the Wikipedia world. Beyond that, Wales is working with a number of industry leaders (including Eastwick-client Socialtext), to make wikis easier to use for general consumers. It's an appropriate note with which to end this series, our best-faith attempt to show you what works in the world of wiki. Tomorrow we'll post a new wiki to continue the conversation, and on Monday we will post a paper entitled, "Three Things We Learned About 33 Wikis."

So long ... for now. As the original wiki people like to say, this is a WorkInProgress.

33 Wikis: #32 -- WikiWikiWeb -- A Walk Down "The Wiki Way"

This is the thirty-second installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: WikiWikiWeb is the first wiki forum ever, and the current name of the first wiki engine.

But it's more than just a couple of cultural artifacts. The brainchild of software innovator/wiki inventor Ward Cunningham, WikiWikiWeb is a virtual repository of many of the ideas and discusssions that shaped the approach and indentity of wikis. The aggregate is an approach that many people in the wiki world now call "The Wiki Way."

Why we like it: So what is the wiki way? I met Ward Cunningham at a now-infamous night of parties at Web 2.0 2005. I was struck by how shy, humble but friendly was the father of wikis at a gathering of software honchos often known for other qualities on the human spectrum. I felt like I was meeting a gentle wizard. I say this with great respect: Cunningham represents a middle-earth of software development known for a more enlightened approach to the craft. Turns out that Cunningham and his brood were influenced by the deep and intuitive thinking of architect (buildings not software) Christopher Alexander, whose teachings I was introduced to years ago (1978) by another gentle wizard, a close friend of mine at Princeton (an architecture student) who was struggling to commit to a career he was certain he would hate. Alexander, then Cunningham, and then others, taught many people to find a higher purpose in their craft. For Cunningham, it has always been about "creating technologies that connect people."

Here's one thing you will learn on WikiWikiWeb: the utter simplicity of a good wiki. That's one of the early, controlling concepts that Cunningham helped to advance. Possibly his most famous quote, "what is the simplest thing that could possibly work?" A great question for a movement that would later take this technology to the masses.

What we all can learn from it: if you are truly committed to building a wiki, and are looking to understand the first philosophical impulses that brought this form into being, WikiWikiWeb is worth a visit. The conversation has evolved over the years -- most recently into the world of "extreme programming." Still, there's enough here to satisfy the curiosity of the most wiki-committed but technologically-challenged. It's a great walk for anyone, along the wiki way.

33 Wikis: #31 -- WikiIndex: The First "One Stop-Sign Town" in the Land of Wiki

This is the thirty-first installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: From the homepage: WikiIndex is "a wiki of wiki, wiki people and wiki ideas, a WorkInProgress. This is part of a continued effort to self-organize information collaboratively, started by WardCunningham a decade ago." In an email exchange with eastwikkers, organizer Mark Dilley noted, "my main goal is to have this be the first one stop sign town for wiki. People come here and add their wiki, tag it, maintain it like a front lawn and ask wiki related questions."

Why we like it: there are other indexes and lists that purport to do the same thing -- or similar things -- but WikiIndex is the best of its kind. The "33 Wikis" project is all about finding best-practices in wiki-based collaboration, and we couldn't have managed this project without the timely info that WikiIndex maintains. Among many of the useful pages on this site: wikis arranged by category, wikis that are vibrant (subjective judgment -- a wiki is vibrant if it "has significant content, or is very interesting, or has a high volume of traffic, or is valuable in some way to the Internet community"), and wiki noding, a "project that will ultimately allow users to discover entire wiki worlds by traversing the node network."

What we all can learn from it: Like Meatball, WikiIndex is a valuable resource for all citizens in wikidom. Lesson is not so much how to replicate what it does well; it's more about becoming knowledgeable in how wikis are being used, what works and what doesn't, and what's new from a use-case perspective. Oh, yeah -- be sure to add your own wiki, and, as Dilley recommends, maintain it nicely for all the folks who pass through town (the traffic is heavy).

33 Wikis: #30 -- Les Wikis -- From Book to Wiki

This is the thirtieth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: Les Wikis is a bilingual wiki devoted to educating general audiences on all things wiki. With this broad focus, the wiki reads somewhat like a zine, with news, features and interviews with people in the wiki business. Still, one might ask -- how vibrant is the French wiki scene? Check this out.

Why we like it: With a version in French and another in English (the new lingua franca), Les Wikis can reach out to a broad European audience, and it appears to have done so. We are also impressed that "Les Wikis" originated as an online companion to a book ("Wikis: Zone of Collective Intelligence.") In its current, collaborative form, the project is better suited to the "Les Wikis" mission -- "tout sur les wikis."

What we all can learn from it: The evolution of this site -- from book to wiki -- might inspire others to think of ways to extend the life of a publishing project. If that means turning more books into wiki-based zines, we may someday see a new wave of innovation in publishing.

33 Wikis: #29 -- Meatball Wiki

This is the twenty-ninth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: for the next four days we will be looking at meta-wikis -- i.e., wikis about wikis. Meatball Wiki, one of the most influential wikis in wikidom describes itself as a "learning community" comprised of the leaders of online communities. Their mission is to bring together all "proprietors, developers, mentors, samaritans" of wiki-based communities to share what they know and propagate a better understanding of the Wiki Way -- the philosophy of wiki-based communities first articulated by the inventor of the wiki, Ward Cunningham.

Why we like it: during my first real visit to Meatball, I fell in love. This is a treasure trove of technology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and common-sense wisdom of the do's and dont's of online communities. But it is even more than that. As one of the older and wiser wiki communities, Meatball has helped to introduce and evangelize BarnRaising, SoftSecurity, RealNames, NonViolence, "playful wisdom," and other concepts that are helping community leaders in both the online and offline worlds. Spend enough time on this wiki, and you will get a very stong vibe: this community is in fact dedicated to making a better world -- online and offline. It reminds me of an article we posted last year, where we put forth the idea that the online world is like the New World of the colonial era -- a breeding ground for ideas from the Old World that eventually would go back to the Old World ... but only after the New World tested them.

FYI: meatball refers to a picture of the Web as a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, where spaghetti are the links, and meatballs are the content. This wiki is a mighty big meatball, and it has spawned all sorts of projects. But Meatball follows the principle of CommunityOverContent: in the end, it's all about relationships, and the ethic of community predominates over everything -- even the meatballs -- on Meatball.

What we all can learn from it: for what it does -- and it does a lot -- it would be hard to top Meatball. But the members of this community have been gracious enough to link to similar sites, directly from the home page. But what can we all learn from it? Recommendation: join this community, contribute to it, and learn. If you have been following this series for all 29 days to date, you actually might be ready for the experience.

33 Wikis: #28 -- DrKW -- the Wikipedia of the Enterprise

This is the twenty-eighth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW), the international investment bank, is operating what we believe is the largest internal corporate wiki in existence. [Disclosure: Eastwick-client Socialtext provided the wiki platform]. As the Financial Times recently reported, with more than 2,000 pages edited by more than a quarter of its workforce, the DrKW wiki has traffic well exceeding the company's intranet. Employees today are using the wiki for a wide variety of activities, including training, project management, and sales support. With this wide and far-reaching agenda -- driven only by the imagination of employees -- this wiki has been dubbed the DrKWpedia, a nod to the largest wiki of all, Wikipedia.

Why we like it: The scope of this project -- and the reputation of the company -- should help to evangelize the way wikis can be used to make businesses more efficient, nimble, and creative. It helps that one of the leading proponents of the DrKW wiki is CIO JP Rangaswami. But as Socialtext-consultant Suw Charman observes, the widespread adoption of the DrKW wiki also has a lot to do with folks at lower tiers -- the "supernodes" who are so well connected and so influential among their peers.

What we all can learn from it: There are other corporate "pedias" in the works, but to date this is the leading case study. If an organization wants to explore the business benefits of launching a wiki, the public documentation of this wiki project can be a great help.
Related link: "Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration," by Harvard professor Andrew P. McAfee.