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January 14, 2005 / jnolen

Wikis: the third place

So Mike builds an interesting metaphor here. He posits that Wikis could be the “third place” of corporate communication. I’m not going to summarize the entire argument here — go read his post. But I am going to play the Devil’s advocate a bit.

I like Mike’s core explanation: wikis are better than Word docs because they enable collaboration and they’re better than email because the information doesn’t get lost. So I think the metaphor holds, but I don’t know how effective it is.

First, I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t seen a wiki used successfully would admit the need for yet another channel of communication — many people feel overwhelmed already. Second, the third place idea implies a casual, relaxed atmosphere that may not be the most effective tone for a pitch to the enterprise. And third, I think the metaphor ignores fully half the value that wikis provide — that of being an outward-facing channel for communication with (and between) your customers.

Actually, Mike isn’t alone in this. Pretty much all of the wiki-makers seem to be structuring their sales propositions around the wiki as an internal collaboration tool. So maybe I’ve got it wrong. Perhaps the internal collaboration idea is overwhelmingly more successful. Or the overwhelmingly more common use-case. Or perhaps it’s just easier to grasp. But there seem to be many opportunities to use wikis to engage your customers that aren’t being pitched.

An easy example is what John Udell was talking about that I mentioned a few posts back: Open Source Documentation. But that’s just one possibility. A lot of the things we use discussion forums for now would fit better in a wiki. The Adobe Studio is just screaming for a wiki. The user communities for cell phone customers are another example: It’s awful that the best information I can get about my cell phone/plan/provider comes from here. If your customers are willing to put that much energy into talking about your product, you should harness, not ghettoize it.

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