Saturday 9 February 2008

Are Wikipatterns, Collaborative Patterns?

In terms of enterprise social computing, wikis continue to be the flavour of the month and Stewart Mader taps into that interest with his new Wikipatterns book, the name reflecting the Wikipatterns site that he helped to start.

The book is structured well and steps naturally from explaining the value and use cases of wikis into the adoption process. In terms of adoption, Mader offers 11 steps to a successful wiki pilot... that's right, these are tips just to get the pilot right! In fact, its refreshing to find someone suggesting that adopting a wiki in an organisation can take a lot more effort than simply plugging a wiki into your corporate LAN. However - considering my background - I must admit I didn't find anything surprising in the patterns Mader describes. For example, patterns such as using champions, seeding content, welcoming new contributors etc I've used successfully with old school discussion groups for years (for some ideas in this space, check out Cliff Figallo on Hosting Web Communities).

Actually every time I think about Wikipatterns (the concept, rather than the book as such) I can't help but think about this paper, The who, what and why of knowledge mapping [PDF]. While it focuses on the concept of knowledge maps, the patterns it suggests for the who of map making sound eerily applicable to wikis:

  • Map maker - creates the details and sets the usage pattern of the knowledge map;
  • Map users - use maps in order to accomplish their tasks and to develop learning potential;
  • Map innovators - alter existing maps through use, reuse and diffusion of innovation; and
  • Map champions - uphold the need for knowledge maps as providing a competitive advantage for the organisation.

In fact, this pattern was the conceptual basis for an electronic knowledge map I helped to create using Lotus Notes at Ernst & Young, called NavigatorLite. Today if you saw it you wouldn't be completely wrong in mistaking it for a wiki.

But, don't get me wrong, as I'm not saying don't buy this book. Rather, my recommendation is that Wiki Patterns is worth a look regardless of the collaborative technologies you are using... there are a set of "patterns" in well written format here that can be applied to a variety of collaborative technologies. For example, I've seen successful application of a wiki-like philosophy to document management systems and web-based project spaces that deliver significant benefits over the email and shared drives they replaced. In one instance the process of submitting a large package of information to head office that was too large to email was reduced from hours of effort and days of elapsed time to less than an hour.

The other thing I like about this book is the case studies. Case studies are an important part of any technology innovation process and this book provides ten different stories you can use to explain the how and why of using wikis.

However, you should also be aware that there are some patterns that this book doesn't address, such as how to transform an organisation that already has already has a solid base of "traditional" collaborative and information tools in place into one that uses wikis and other social media. I've noticed with CSC's own experience in this space that a significant effort has been made to integrate our beta enterprise wiki into our extranet portal, because initially you needed to be physically connected to our network to use it - for us that was a major barrier to any attempts at widespread adoption in the business.

As many of you will know, I'm also trying to champion the adoption Enterprise RSS systems as while RSS is mentioned in Wikipatterns, obviously the patterns for adopting RSS itself isn't a focus area. However, I suspect in large organisations Enterprise RSS will be a critical factor in the successful adoption of wikis (and other social media tools). In that respect I'm still looking for someone who can provide a comprehensive set of patterns for the broader enterprise Web 2.0 stack (see slide 25 from my Intranet 2.0 workshop slides to get an idea of what I'm talking about).

Overall, Wikipatterns get a thumbs up from me for anyone involved with collaboration technologies, not just wikis.

BTW If you're looking for other books on wikis, also worth checking out is Wikis for Dummies and Ward Cunningham's The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. I agree. The patterns that are mentioned can applied to collaboration in general, and collaboration tools, such as Sharepoint, Intranet platforms, etc. Working on collaboration patterns would lead to greater and easier adoption of collaboration tooling. Usually such a tool is given to a (group of) users and they have to sort things out themselves. Having patterns would help an IT or IM department give the user/team a fitting solution (configuration) for his/her problem.
    I wrote about wikipatterns and Sharepoint patterns before on my blog.


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