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January 3, 2005 / jnolen

Year of the Enterprise Wiki

John Udell has declared that 2004 was the Year of the Enterprise Wiki (link via Ross Mayfield of SocialText).

Well, it certainly was for us. Here's what went down: Early last year, David and I, following what has now become standard operating procedure, installed a wiki at work without asking anyone. We used it pretty frequently, the other devs on my team used it sporadically, and the rest of the company didn't even know it was there for the first nine months of the year.

But this fall, we had some folks looking for better ways to coordinate projects across development teams. The second time I showed up at a meeting where different people had different revisions of the same Word document in front of them I decided enough was enough. I added all of the project managers (the Word document writers) and gave them each a short tutorial. I also added three project specs actively being developed to the wiki, and insisted that everyone start using that as the canonical reference.

There was some initial resistance, and some loud complaining about how "I'm not a programmer, so you can't possibly expect me to learn a markup language!" But within a week, the project managers had started to edit the documents online, and then quickly started creating new ones. Even those Word docs that were too complicated to turn into wiki pages were moved out of CVS/VSS and into the wiki: it has versioning and makes it possible for non-programmers to find and edit the versioned docs.

As they started CC'ing the wiki URLs to other people in the company I got more and more requests for wiki accounts. Within the month, we had to double our per-seat licenses. And shortly after that, we had to upgrade to unlimited licensing.

Other developers (some of whom I've never even spoken to personally) have been requesting new spaces for their projects. Documentation (valuable, critical stuff that I never would have known how to find) has been going in at a remarkable rate. I stared checking the "recently updated" page in the mornings to see what people were doing, and to make sure they were using the wiki in the best way. By mid-December, there were too many edits and additions to keep up with.

So our experience has been an enormous success. But we're not out of the woods yet. Here are the several issues that remain:

  1. The security guy is freaking out about the very existence of a wiki.
  2. There are still several people who want to use RUP, which would knock us back to the stone age of Word docs.
  3. There are people who would love to kill this project purely out of spite for my team.

But if I can hold these forces at bay, it may yet succeed. The day the first post from HR goes up, I'll know we've won.

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