Wisdom in wiki production/Different uses of wikis
An essential aspect that influences the way wikis are used is the environment in which the use takes place. This section lists typical uses of wikis, classifying them on the basis of their environments. Those interested in the use of wikis at workplaces can easily find examples of how wikis are being used in their particular environment; civic activities and leisure hobbies form different kinds of environments. In addition to the environment in which wikis are used, their uses are influenced by how goal-oriented the use is in these environments in each individual situation. Even if the reader were most interested in, say, the use of wikis in leisure hobbies, we recommend the gathering of ideas from other environments as well.
Different user roles in wikis
Before we study different uses of wikis in relation to the environments of their use, we should briefly glance at the roles that wikis integrally offer their users.
In wikis, people have different roles, a fact that we should understand as an enrichment. Some people may eagerly start new pages but leave them at the level of seeds. Some others may want to write one article only but will produce a perfectly polished work. Some people float from one text to another, improving the linguistic form or correcting minor errors. There are even people who only monitor and comment on the outputs of others.
Wiki user profiles are not as specific as e.g. blog user profiles, which has its impacts on the uses of wikis. If the tool is desired to make the interaction among community members closer, then wikis are not as effective as blogs. Wikis will show their strengths if the community wants to produce or maintain materials collectively and allow many voices to speak on an equal basis without reference to status.
Use of wikis in civic activities
Wikis can be made use of in civic activities. A freely available wiki that is also free of charge is a quick and easy solution when a website is required for an association or hobby group. The fact that civic activity often takes place in addition to regular employment may limit the time available for page updates. The benefit to be gained from pages in wiki form is that page updates will not fall on any one person: all members have the possibility to update them. This helps keep the pages current. Wikis are also ideologically suited for civic activities, as such activities are typically open for all interested citizens. However, the use of wikis requires that members are sufficiently interested and have sufficient skills and knowledge.
In the last few years, a great number of open regional, local and city wikis have been created in Finland. The idea is that people living in certain areas would provide information relating to their hometowns or cities. These hometown wikis are usually free for anyone to edit. All wikis experience challenges in enticing writers to participate actively: a great deal of wiki articles are maintained by the original writers. It seems like a rather rocky road that needs to be travelled before local wikis develop into tools for civic action, truly community-based services created collectively with shared responsibility of the contents.
The size and popularity of local wikis varies greatly. Their backgrounds differ, too: there are wikis established by private individuals as well as wikis established by public libraries. The wiki platform for local wikis is the MediaWiki.
Vaasapedia is a freely modifiable encyclopaedia about Vaasa, a city on the coast of Finland. It forms a part of the service concept of the website vaasalaisia.info The site was established early in 2006. New articles are entered constantly, though most of them are rather modest. In February 2010, there were more than 3600 pages, but only 653 of them were in any way complete . The number of registered users at that time was 69. Vaasapedia has a great number of visitors: by February 2010, the pages had been viewed almost 3.5 million times.
Pori-tieto (Pori Information) was started in February 2006. Its purpose is to collect a comprehensive set of information about Pori. The service is maintained by a private individual. The site contains about two thousand pages, perhaps one thousand of which can be regarded as articles (February 2010). Pori-tieto pages have been viewed almost 1.5 million times. In February 2010, there were 169 registered users. This site has occasionally suffered from active, purposeful vandalism.
Kymipedia is an online encyclopaedia established for the promotion of Kymenlaakso-people's local identity through the study of local history and culture. Kymipedia is the outcome of a joint effort by the Kouvola City Library and the Kouvola unit of the University of Helsinki's Palmenia Centre for Continuing Education. This service contains 309 articles. Kymipedia is the most modest of these Finnish wikis in terms of the volume of its contents and the number of its visitors. Kymipedia pages have also suffered from vandalism.
Häme-Wiki (see also an English info page) is the newest of local Finnish wikis. It resembles Kymipedia in its field and principles of operation, but it is clearly more active. Häme-Wiki was opened in August 2009. After half a year of use, it contained about five hundred articles, and by that time, Häme-Wiki pages had been viewed about 173 000 times. There were 218 registered users. Häme-Wiki is maintained by the Hämeenlinna City Library, and it was produced in an ESF-funded project, Information Society Facilities.
Kangasalaa Wikitellen (Enticing Kangasala) is a wiki that aims to shed light on locations, personages, associations and other phenomena in Kangasala. All users are free to write their Kangasala stories free of charge in this wiki. Businesses may advertise in Kangasala wiki for a charge. The maintenance of the wiki is handled mainly by the editors of the local newspaper.
Use of wikis in workplaces
When wikis are used in workplaces, there often are various aspects relating to public access and free modification of these wikis that require attention and discussion. A growing number of organisations have understood the benefits of social media; such organisations want to involve their clientele in their work, including even product design. A study was conducted at the University of Tampere to learn about wiki-experiences in Finnish organisations.
Intranet. Wikis can be used as the organisation-internal Intranet or as an Extranet available for larger groups. Several people can easily be involved in the editing of the intranet, which helps communication and keeps information up-to-date, as the adding of a piece of information does not require particular edit or modify permissions. On the other hand, a wiki-form intranet looks so different from traditional approaches that some users may wonder if it actually contains officially valid information. Wikis can be used for publishing meeting agendas which can be commented on and supplemented, if necessary. They can also be used for storing minutes of meetings. Various types of contact information and the organisation's procedures can be easily kept up to date and available in wiki form.
Organisations often establish wikis when they are embarking on building or development ventures. Wikis are highly suitable for this type of work: opinions and ideas from many different parties can be effortlessly collected in one place. Access to such wikis is limited to the members of the organisations. Libraries provide us with many good examples of this. Project-internal communication can make use of free-of-charge wiki platforms. Setting up project wikis on such platforms is easy and economical, i.e. free of charge. When using these platforms, projects should make sure to keep back-up copies of their materials. If only free wiki platforms are used for storing project documentation, there always is the danger that the materials may become lost.
Open organisation wiki. Some companies and other organisations may have the need to conduct a dialogue with their customers and to save such a dialogue. A wiki with unrestricted access may form a good platform for such activities.
Storage platform for instructions. Many organisations make use of wikis as the storage place for various types of instructions; in such cases, wikis form the organisations' data banks or instructions databases. For example, new recruits' induction guides can easily be produced in the wiki form. The wiki form suits user instructions for various programmes and procedural instructions, making them easy to access and maintain, providing the same version for everyone. This presumes, however, that someone records the information on the wiki platform that is being passed on in the form of tacit knowledge. In addition, a sufficient number of people eager to edit and maintain instructions are required in the organisation. This might entail the nomination of persons in charge.
- Xerox, for example, noticed that peer production was effective in keeping technical documentation up-to-date when new products were rolled-out.
Multi-party web platform. Wikis bring the benefit of several parties being able to work on one platform in spite of organisational boundaries and physical distance. Such work must be organised well, if the work entails a particular goal and schedule. For example, a wiki is currently under development to aid people applying to vocational studies and intending to complete their vocational qualifications. AmmattiWiki (Vocational wiki) is a cooperative effort for representatives of working life, educators and students in educational institutions. Kirjastowiki (Library wiki), opened in 2007, is a platform with a professional orientation for the use of the library community. KirjastoWiki contains many types of project presentations, discussion and reports. The KirjastoWiki platform has been made use of in e.g. drafting the general library strategy.
Wikis in project work
Wikis make it possible to store the materials needed in a project in one place where everything is easily found: contact information, materials, instructions and agreed processes. Information dissemination via wikis is easy. Everyone has access to the same information and can easily edit it, should mistakes be found. Wikis are also suitable for working on theoretical concepts, which is the case in AnturiWiki (SensorWiki) in JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä.
In addition to storing instructions and agreed processes, wikis are excellent when training programmes, seminars and other similar common efforts are brainstormed. Comments to the programme structure can be given on the planning page, and suggestions for contents and additions can be provided directly in the text. The confirmation of the final programme requires action from the responsible party. After the programme, the same page can be used for collecting feedback and assessments, and contents-related discussion can be carried on there. Wikis work well in monitoring the progress of the different parts of a project. The parties responsible for the various subprojects or areas record their accomplishments and outputs in a wiki, and in this way, all project members are briefed and updated regarding the total of the project. Summaries are easy to compile for reporting.
Other hints on how wikis can help manage large sets of information:
- A project calendar, common to everyone, can be included in a wiki; this can be implemented with e.g. the Google calendar.
- Meeting materials can be collected in a wiki: the commenting on agendas that are being prepared for meetings is made possible, and the related minutes of meetings and their attachments can be stored in the same place. Invitations contain the links to the meetings' wikipages where the materials are stored.
- Tags or key words, agreed upon together, make it easier to find the desired documents from a large mass. The wiki platform allowing, tags and key words are recommended.
Wikis as collaborative writing tools
Because the basic idea of wikis is precisely to allow many writers to work together, using a wiki as the writing platform is the obvious idea when people want to collaborate in writing a text, perhaps a project report or project plan, or a narrative of an event experienced together. However, wikis present practical problems in these situations: even though wikis allow many simultaneous editors to work on texts, problems arise when many people are editing the same spot on the same page. Conflicts arise, possibly leading to the loss of the edits of the writer who started editing first. If users do not understand why such problems occur, they may eventually feel very frustrated.
The solution to these conflicts is to distribute the text on many pages, decreasing the likelihood of conflicting edits, or to keep some real-time chat or instant messaging channel open during the writing session, agreeing on which pages are to be edited by whom. For this type of writing, it may be better to use a service actually designed for synchronous writing such as EtherPad or Google Docs.
- Henriksson, Jani & Mikkonen Teemu. 2008. Wiki-kokemuksia suomalaisissa organisaatioissa. Raportti Wiki-tutkimuksen tuloksista. Tampere: Tampereen yliopiston Hypermedialaboratorio. http://tampub.uta.fi/tup/978-951-44-7377-7.pdf
- Moore, C. 1999. Best practices: Eureka! Xerox discovers way to grow community knowledge and customer satisfaction. KMWorld Magazine 8(10). http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/Feature/Best-Practices-Eureka!-Xerox-discovers-way-to-grow-community-knowledge.-.-And-customer-satisfaction-9140.aspx
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