A Practical Tool for Collaboration

Our company has had an Intranet site for several years. We call it, “The House,” as a reference to our corporate logo. It has housed our company phone directory, employee handbook, various policies, etc.

Nelson’s IntraWiki

The problem was that our Intranet was static—“read only.” If you wanted to make a change, you had to get someone in the IT department to do it.

However, a few weeks ago, some of our visionary IT people completely redesigned the Intranet, using MediaWiki, the same software that runs Wikipedia, the hugely popular, online encyclopedia.

“What’s a wiki,” you ask? According to Wikipedia—and they would know—a wiki is

a website that allows visitors to add, remove, and edit content. A collaborative technology for organizing information on Web sites, the first wiki (WikiWikiWeb) was developed by Ward Cunningham in the mid-1990s. Wikis allow for linking among any number of pages. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is one of the best known wikis.

The term wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” Wiki systems are therefore designed so that their content can be made available in a quick and uncomplicated manner.

The idea, as articulated by James Surowieki in The Wisdom of Crowds, is that “all of us are smarter than some of us.” In other words, if you can harness the collective effort of everyone, and give them a tool for collaboration, you can produce something that is more substantial and more useful than conventional methods.

Consider the Encyclopedia Britannica. Until a few years ago, it was generally regarded as the most prestigious, comprehensive, and accurate encyclopedia available. With 4,411 named contributors, a half a million articles, and published in thirty-two hardback volumes, it was the undisputed heavy-weight champion of the academic world.

But then, in 2001 everything changed. Wikipedia was launched on the Web. The concept was simple. Wikipedia

is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. With rare exceptions, its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the edit this page link.

The stats speak for themselves: Today, there are over 75,000 active contributors, working on more than 5.3 million articles, in more than 100 languages. And, unlike a printed encyclopedia, errors—which inevitably sneak into the content—can be corrected within minutes. It is truly a “read-write” technology. This is Web 2.0.

We want to harness this same power of collaboration for our Company. As a result, we are beginning with an IntraWiki. We want to turn our Intranet into an encyclopedia of sorts for “all things Thomas Nelson.” We want it to be a helpful resource that our employees will turn to again and again for important, up-to-date information. We also want it to be an orientation tool for new employees. But that will only work if our employees take the initiative and become active participants in the brave new, collaborative world.

Like Wikipedia, any employee can add, edit, or remove any part of the Wiki. It’s a living, breathing thing. Employees don’t have to get permission from their supervisors. They don’t have to get approval from anyone. They can just jump in and start adding or modifying content.

They will have to login to do so, of course, just like Wikipedia. We want to know who authored the content or edited it. This is how we (and Wikipedia) establish accountability and avoid anonymous vandalism and bogus entries.

I am very excited about this new initiative. I hope that our IntraWiki will quickly become a valuable resource for our employees. If you work for Thomas Nelson, this is your chance to make a mark on the company. You know more than you think you know, and you know stuff that only you know. Take this opportunity to share it with the rest of us.

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