43 Wiki Prank and the Whiteboard Test

Weblogswork is making fun of Ross Mayfield using a wiki for everything. Ok, so it’s really Alex Muse’s idea, check out his story. They set up and CrunchNotes announced the 43 Best Blogs page, which is open for anyone to edit. Of course Ross typically ends up selling / using / donating Socialtext wikis for the right purpose, while this 43thingie is just a mess. I could have my 5 minutes of fame by inserting myself in the #1 position. Not that being a mess is bad … I suppose it’s just a cool prank to get some buzz and attention – otherwise a digg-like voting system would make more sense.

Let’s use this opportunity though to make a point: wikis are a wonderful productivity tool, they help cut down on the flood of email we’re all buried under, reduce “occupational spam” (those unnecessary CC’s, even worse, BCC’s) ..etc…etc…etc. But most importantly, a wiki is for collaboration. Not everything we do is a collaborative effort, and as such, a wiki is not always the best tool to use. Key in picking the right tool is the intention, the desired outcome of the communication.

For ad-hoc, one-to-one, or one-to-some type communication email is still the winner. Blogs are the best for one-to-many regular communication and dialogue. When the value is in the individual contributions, preserving their original content and sequence, traditional forum software is probably the best. Movie-, book-, product reviews are typical examples, for example I would question that Amazon’s ProductWiki is such a good idea. (well, it is, if you enjoy wiki-wars).

The simple “whiteboard-test” helps determine when wikis are really helpful: if ideally you’d like to have all participants of your conversations together in a room, where anyone can walk up to the whiteboard, wipe off content, correct, overwrite what others done until the group collectively reaches the desired outcome, then you should use a wiki. In other words it’s not the debate, the process, the individual arguments that matter, but the synthesis of the collective wisdom. (actually, you get all the other stuff from the change logs). It’s clearly easier to use wikis in a self-controlled environment, like project teams, companies … essentially any team driving towards a common purpose, but Wikipedia is proof that collaboration can be achieved with Pigeonthe open community at large, too.

For everything else, there is always good old pigeon-mail.

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