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  • Intranet Book: My Five Major Arguments in Favor of a Wiki
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1. Control and Transparency 

Wiki pages create shared ownership through control and transparency.

Documents created in Word or Google Docs generally don’t last very long. It is said that their “persistence” is low. But that is just one problem. Much more critical is the fact that even though in theory these document types offer opportunities for collaboration – they are not used in practice. At an average company, a handful of people at most are involved in working on the majority of documents and usually only one person works on them. 

Wiki pages work differently. “Wiki” or “wikiwiki” is Hawaiian and stands for “fast.” A wiki allows lots of people to make quick changes. This is usually not the most important factor when you create a document for the first time, but once the first version of the wiki page has been made accessible to others, its benefits start to pay off. 

As I said before, when I am creating a new idea, I often use Google Docs. Then I always copy the first version of the document into the wiki. If another user makes a change to the wiki page, I receive a native message in the system and via email. 

By the way, I recommend that you place notification emails like these in a separate folder so that they do not block your view of urgent matters when things get stressful. This is because you can receive quite a few notifications in an actively used system.

So, someone changes my wiki document. For some users who are not yet familiar with the concept of a wiki, this may cause some irritation initially: “What the hell are they doing? Why is he messing around with my document? I didn’t even know he was allowed to do that. Can I stop what they are doing?”

It doesn’t really matter whether you find the whole thing amusing or whether you feel vindicated in your irritation. What’s important is that you know that lots of employees think the same way. This is something you have to be clear about in your mind, because it is one thing to have understood that a wiki is useful for working on texts. Whether your workforce and co-workers see it the same way is another matter completely. Wikis and how to use them involve collective learning. If you don’t have the time or will to actively promote this in your organization, you won’t be able to harvest the benefits of an active wiki. And then sooner or later all the documents disappear into the abyss. 

So, let’s stick to my specific user scenario here: someone made a change to my wiki document and I’ve received a notification about it. Whether I’m initially skeptical or not – at least I take a look at it. And lo and behold: the change makes sense. A colleague has highlighted an additional aspect of the topic that I hadn’t considered so important, but it fits in well with the topic. And while doing so, they corrected a few careless mistakes I made as well. Is that an unlikely scenario? No, not at all. 

But isn’t a scenario where somebody makes my document worse also possible? That really would be annoying! In theory, it is possible, of course. But in reality, I’ve never experienced it. Especially because you have to log in to make changes. And every change shows a name. If I write nonsense, it is documented and everyone can see it. The positive effect is that “vandalism” does not tend to take place on corporate wikis. The negative consequence is that hardly anyone dares to write anything.

The good changes I’ve seen make me (and other users in the same situation) feel pretty good. There’s hardly any other software around that produces the same effect as a wiki: “Come on! They really changed my text for the better? I’d never have thought of it.” If you experience this once, you may dismiss it as a one-off. But if it happens five or six times, then even the greatest of idiots will know it’s because the quality of your texts is simply better when people collaborate on them together. And only a wiki can let you participate in the process like that. 

It’s not just that a wiki strengthens the feeling of creating better results through collaboration. Change notifications received by email are also quick and easy to digest. And these changes give me a feeling of control as the creator. Everything is okay   I’m the original document creator and so far, so good, I’ve got everything under control. And in the simplest of ways without tons of work. These are the simple reasons why I don’t mind others working on my document. I stay in control knowing what happens with my work at all times. 

2. More Collaboration

Wiki pages engender collaboration through a series of small and quick changes. Typically, the process of transferring a document and collaborating on it is a fairly time-consuming and complicated task. If you work with files, you know how tedious it is when people make changes to different files and then try to combine them later into the latest single version. In fact, the whole thing is pretty terrible and nobody should have to deal with something like that! 

Google Docs and MS Word in Office 365 represent real relief in comparison. In reality, however, the completely isolated documents still don’t offer any real room for collaboration. Documents are created, and sometimes by more than one person. But once they have been created, that’s it after a few iterations.

Things work differently in a wiki. Changes can be made easily and quickly. By default, anyone who makes a change is added as a subscriber and notified by email of any future changes. These change notifications then frequently trigger additional actions. 

I create the first version of a document. A colleague then makes an addition, which then shows me which aspects of the document I should examine in more detail. As the document creator, I often have additional information about these aspects at hand, which in turn then encourages other employees to make a contribution.

I know, you’re saying I’m repeating myself. But I just wanted to reiterate how mutually beneficial chains like this are created in a wiki in a simple and natural way. In the supposedly advanced collaboration environments of Google and Microsoft, this is conceivable in theory, but in practice it hardly ever happens. 

3. Easy to Find

Wiki pages can be found easily. The collaboration effect is also benefited by the fact that documents and even small changes can easily be found in a wiki. A wiki literally invites you to come in and browse around. Have you ever lost track of time when reading Wikipedia? This happens to me a lot when I’m browsing a topic and end up jumping from one article to the next. The way contributions are thematically linked encourages continued research. Word and Google Docs almost never contain links to other documents. The documents are lined up next to one other like isolated containers and mainly held together by directories and shared drives.

Besides the semantic links that wikis have in their content that easily allow you to switch to related topics, they also provide other options for significantly improving findability. These include the notifications mentioned above, which also have a reminder function. One that I would like to mention in particular, however, is the activity lists that some wikis send out once a day as an email notification. These lists answer the question concerning what is happening on our intranet right now.

This is really exciting. After it has been drawn up, an unfiltered list is best perused at the end of the week. But when a wiki is established at the beginning and with the appropriate filters, lists like these are really practical: show me everything that’s new in marketing at the moment and what’s changed! 

The other day, a customer told me that he has even included browsing through the latest activity lists as part of his daily morning routine. He says that this allows him to think outside the box and discover new and interesting topics that he would normally not encounter so easily during his daily work.

We will talk later about which notification types are key to an intranet. Here, we are talking about the digital traces that users leave behind. In discussions with works councils, these lists are often misunderstood as “monitoring lists.” But they are not very well suited to this (in fact, not at all in my opinion). But the ability to discover what’s currently happening and which documents and concepts are currently being worked on is uniquely effective and a really exciting prospect. If your role in a company is administrative, organizational or communicative (for example, as a manager), one of your central tasks will involve knowing what is happening. Activity lists like these provide you with exactly the information you need. That is of immeasurable value. 

In a network, wiki pages can be linked together. I briefly mentioned the role of semantic networks just now and would like to go into it in a little more detail. I know there are lots of Microsoft evangelists out there among you. But this was not the case in the past before Microsoft was cloud based. That made their software much more restrictive and, in my opinion, worse than modern alternatives. Office 365 doesn’t really knock my socks off either, but overall it’s a decent piece of software and its economic success cannot be dismissed. 

In conversation, Microsoft users object: “Yes, but you can also activate links in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which then gives you a semantic network.” And in theory, this is correct. In reality it doesn’t happen though. And the other functions I described above that support collaboration and setting links are also missing. 

But let’s assume that your company is different and you actually link all related and relevant documents and content regularly. This creates a network that makes discovering content much easier. Suddenly we can find our way around overview pages or in the documents themselves. We can be sure about the information available to employees and encounter a meaningful medium through which we can contribute some of our own knowledge.

The formation of semantic networks of this type reduces redundant working and favors situations in which work on existing content is driven forward instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. 

In my view, this can be illustrated quite well in the case of onboarding. A few months ago, we hired two FTEs in the US. The entire hiring process was new to us, as was the onboarding process, of course. However, I benefited enormously from our wiki when it came to the actual recruitment process, and even more so later during the initial training process. Almost all my ideas about things that “I should make a note of” I actually found while researching in our wiki, and all of the sudden my work was reduced to just having to get the German content translated into English. 

Another advantage was that I was able to connect up at the point where our HR team had already integrated numerous iterations and improvements, which also improved my results. What really made it possible for me to discover topics and templates I hadn’t even thought about, and what really helped with the induction of our US employees, was the well-prepared overview page and links between the pages. All of this probably made the broader induction process much more effective and dramatically reduced the amount of effort required for preparatory work. If you are having similar experiences in your own work situation, you will surely no longer have any doubt about the advantages of a wiki.

You could, of course, continue searching through emails, network drives and file storage servers without using a semantic network. But I don’t need to explain why that’s so annoying, since you’ve probably experienced the same many times before: you continually come across different versions of the same content and have to spend ages collating the information you really need first. And lots of things you can’t find at all, even though you know they are there. And if you don’t know how to search properly, or if people give documents poor titles, you are sure to find next to nothing.

What annoys me most is when I’m looking for something that I know is there. The entire time spent searching is frustrating and I feel like I’m wasting my time. On the other hand, in a semantic network, I often stumble across so many gems of information, like that presentation from six months ago in a current or better form, or I can quit searching more quickly because of the many other ideas and possibilities I encounter. 

5. Universal Accessibility

Wiki pages are created as web pages, are multimedial, and can be accessed easily from anywhere. Sometimes I get really mad at Google. They have simply copied Microsoft Office (now Office 365) in Google Workspace and, I must admit, their implementation is better. That is pretty smart tactically, because users are already familiar with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Which is exactly what they get in Google Workspace as well. 

In reality, however, the technology and method used have long been obsolete. One of the reasons why the World Wide Web started almost 30 years ago was to put a stop to document silos. Now we have Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon, Google Search, chats, messengers, and streaming, with new points of contact being created every day in terms of media consumption and attention.

These things have nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing at all to do with documents. So why are we still using them in our organizations? Well, because it’s easy. Because we have gotten used to it. Because we cannot imagine what life would be like otherwise: “You want my company to turn into a website? That’s the last thing I can imagine!”

At the same time, we are all familiar with the following scenario: we’re relaxing on the couch in the evening and all we want to do is consume without thinking. We surf to the NY Times, hop over to the Washington Post, and take a look at what our friends are posting on Facebook, Instagram et al. So why don’t we do the same with corporate content?

News from all over the world is also broadcast at some point and repeated continually. And it sometimes annoys me as well that many of the topics covered have absolutely no relevance to my life. So yeah, I know that the comings and goings of European politics somehow influence my life as well; and the fact that the Amazon rainforest is being decimated doesn’t make me feel very good. This type of news continues to be read by many. 

But do not for a moment think that when they’re relaxing on the couch in the evening that your employees don’t want to read about when the coffee machine is going to be repaired that’s been broken for the last four days. Or why the executive board didn’t go ahead with buying company XYZ. Your workforce wants to read about these things when they’re sitting on the bus, waiting in the supermarket checkout line or at home in the evening. You think your people aren’t interested in your company when they’re lying on the couch in the evening? Well, you’re wrong!

Of course, a garbage man might not be interested in doing any further training at 9 p.m. It’s all about consuming media. It’s about me allowing information to rain down on me from a news site. Sometimes I might make “like” a post or leave a short comment. The comments section (at least with us) is usually reserved for jokes and some loose remarks. Although not always factual and productive, it’s always funny and entertaining. 

This only works, of course, because the content can be consumed quickly and easily. It doesn’t just consist of texts, but lots of diagrams, pictures, and videos as well. They’re interactive. It allows me to communicate and “be part” of the team and the whole company. And that’s great.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a call to throw the Working Hours Act  overboard (a German regulation to limit working hours to 40, but never more than 48 hours per week). From my point of view, activity of this type is clearly time spent working and an employee should record it as normal in the time tracking system, if you have one. 

If you are of the opinion that investing time and, therefore, money in informing your employees is a waste of time for your company, then you wouldn’t be sitting with me here now. Nor is it a solution to allow yourself to be put off by your works council, possibly burying their faces in their hands when you allow your people to read news about your company in the evening. This is precisely what you, as the person responsible for the intranet at your company, need to deal with constructively. We also need to discuss the matter of employee representation as well!

All that matters here is that wikis and wiki-based intranets make website-like user experiences possible. This is of high value because it is multimedial and very easy to consume.


Link to this page:  https://seibert.biz/intranetbookfivearguments


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