Overcoming User Reticence to Wikis


When wikis have been mentioned on IT Business Edge, the coverage generally has been of the "this is an incredible way to get employees collaborating" variety. In Carl Weinschenk's interview with Patrick Tam, Cisco's senior manager of operations, for example, Tam described how wikis geared toward process innovation, project management and other areas are helping the company move from an environment in "which people work in individual silos to using individual technologies to create more of a collaborative environment."


It's worth noting, however, that even at Cisco, users didn't jump right in and begin using the wikis. Cisco did some upfront "hand-holding," Tam said, providing training to user groups and getting top executives to promote wikis and explain the need for them to their teams.


User reticence to wikis (and other Web 2.0 tools) is not uncommon. In a post on MediaShift, Roland Legrand wrote about challenges encountered by his company, Mediafin, in introducing both internal wikis for employees and external ones for readers of the company's financial markets blog. Based on the tepid response to all the wikis, with all participants appearing reluctant to actually add or modify content, Legrand had a number of suggestions:


  1. The process of adding content needs to be simple and preferably in a highly visible area of a Web site or intranet. Users don't want to spend a lot of time on a wiki.
  2. Wikis can work well for big groups, but maybe not for tackling big issues. He notes that many people may still consider it impolite to change text, even with the author's permission. (I found this online courtesy refreshing, but I digress...)
  3. Readers still appear to prefer more traditional discussion forums to wikis, so in many instances forums may work better than wikis.


A J. Boye analyst reached a similar conclusion and shared her thoughts in a Computerworld article. She faults undue hype with many of the problems associated with wikis and breaks problems down into three "myths:"


  1. The mere presence of wikis will motivate users to add content. (See Legrand's comments above.)
  2. Wikis are so intuitive, employees know how to contribute.
  3. Wikis will always provide the information employees need.


The good news is, the analyst provides some ideas for addressing these issues. Among them:


  1. Companies should consider appointing folks to manage wikis, ensuring that the basic information architecture is sound and guidelines for creating content are provided.
  2. Don't launch with an empty wiki. Start with some content to put users more at ease.
  3. Though referring to existing content policies might provide a framework for wikis, it probably will be necessary to add some wiki-specific guidelines such as providing a table of contents for lengthy pieces of content and using a consistent naming system for links.
  4. Managers must perform regular quality checks to ensure information remains accessible and relevant.