The positive buzz that Web sites like Wikipedia have built around “wikis” — tools that allow visitors to write and edit a Web site’s visible content — has perhaps promised higher value than can be delivered to the average small business owner. In most cases, small business won’t want to deploy a wiki in the same way Wikipedia does, but there are some concrete benefits to developing a wiki for your business.
Small businesses are most likely to use wikis in one of two ways:
- as a Web site content management system (CMS)
- as a tool for internal documentation and project flow
Wiki as a Content Management System (CMS)
Internal Documentation and Project Flow
The second and arguably more useful way for small businesses to use a wiki is as a tool for managing internal documentation and project flow. For example, wikis are an excellent way to store a series of phone scripts for salespeople, or a presentation that many departments are contributing to at once. And because wiki pages can be edited by anyone with access rights, there’s no longer the problem of version control, with multiple versions of a document living in different places. Instead, there’s a single master document that everybody can access.
Because documents stored in the wiki can be theoretically accessed from any Web browser, a wiki can give a small office the functionality of a sophisticated file server, without the cost and technical requirements needed to maintain a more complicate computer network.
Wikis induce collaboration and reduce redundancies. The more people who need to use them, the more valuable they become as interoffice communications tools and archiving systems. In the world of wikis there is effectively no such thing as lost data, and because pages can be rolled back to previous versions, mistakes can be easily corrected. Teams and individuals can use wikis to keep themselves informed and involved.
One of the main drawbacks to a wiki is that it requires active use. To induce this continual usage you’ll need someone to make it their administrative duty to keep people aware of the wiki. This person should also be the de facto owner of the tool and oversee its maintenance and monitoring. As time passes and users begin to take greater ownership of the wiki, maintenance and monitoring time should diminish.
Choosing the Right Wiki Software
When deciding which wiki to install, two general rules apply. First, use wikis built to interface with a database (preferably some flavor of SQL), and avoid any wiki that uses flat file storage, as it won’t scale the way database-dependent wikis can. Second, keep in mind that although open-source wikis are generally free, they also carry with them a higher “do-it-yourself” factor. In many cases this is reason enough to pay the license fee and receive direct support and streamlined installation procedures. WikiMatrix is a good place to start looking for the right wiki software package.
If you’re considering a wiki for your small business, go ahead and try one out. Just keep in mind that they can take time to mature, and in the early stages will likely require frequent monitoring. Used well over time, wikis are virtually guaranteed to streamline information exchange within any organization, regardless of size or complexity.