Wikis are Not Knowledge Management Tools

No, this is not an anti-wiki pitch, that would be highly unlikely coming from me. But I am continually amazed how we tend to focus on features while missing the people factor. Knowledge Management is a prime example. KM projects typically do not fail due to software issues, but for human reasons: lack of input, or GIGO. Yet here’s an excerpt from a white paper by enterprise wiki vendor MindTouch::

Wikis provide a flexible alternative to the rigidity of conventional

knowledge management software.

Why wikis work for knowledge management

Based on the features described above, wikis are a powerful replacement for conventional

knowledge management software, because they make knowledge easier to

capture, find and consume:

a. Capturing information: The information is there. Somewhere. Maybe on

a PC, maybe in a file attached to an email, maybe in someone’s head

undocumented. With a wiki, all documents are stored in one central

repository, and files are uploaded rather than attached to emails. Therefore

information is more likely to be captured, stored and made available for reuse.

b. Finding information: When a user has to search a network file server,

he or she must know exactly where to look. A wiki lets a user search

contextually. In addition, because the structure is not required to be linear—

as with KM software—cross-linking of pages helps users not only find

information, but find relevant information.

c. Consuming information: In addition to finding information more easily with

a wiki, a user finds that information in context, meaning the information

is in a location that gives the user some background and perspective relative

to the data. That enables the user to more quickly comprehend the meaning,

significance and relevance of that piece of information. “

All of the above is true – yet it misses the Big Picture. The real story is not about a better tool, but being able to work differently. When wikis are truly embraced in the enterprise, they don’t just make KM easier; they put it out of it’s misery. Yes, that’s right, the wiki is the end of Knowledge Management as we know it: the after-the-fact collection, organization and redistribution of knowledge objects.

The wiki becomes the primary platform to conduct work, the fabric of everyday business, where people create, collaborate, and in the process capture information. While not a Knowledge Management tool, the wiki resolves the KM-problem as a by-product.

Update (6/15/08): Now we have pretty good terms to describe the above, instead of my clumsy explanation. See the discussion on In-the-Flow and Above-the-Flow wikis by Michael Idinopulos and Ross Mayfield.

Ross Mayfield talks about similar ideas in Manage Knowledgement (MK):

“Turns out, users resisted and the algorithms didn’t match reality. With MK, through blogs and wikis, the principle activity is sharing, driven by social incentives. Contribution is simple and unstructured, isn’t a side activity and there is permission to participate. Intelligence is provided by participants, both through the act of sharing and simply leaving behind breadcrumbs of attention.”

Update (5/1): What Happened to Knowledge Management? – by Stewart Mader


  1. Zoli – Wikis are Not Knowledge Management Tools

    Wikis are Not Knowledge Management Tools

  2. No, Wiki is NOT a complete KM tool. We have to integrate the wiki to any of the KM tool and then have make it work as a front end application.

    Wiki is just a platform, like Lotus Notes’ QuickPlace, where people can go and create the explicit knowledge. But with the help of Wikis, its easy to capture the tacit knowledge of the organisation.



  3. Mr. Erdos, I have not read your bio and thus don’t know if you ever experienced first hand the woes of organizational knowledge management. But to espouse like you do here the idea that wikis are the solution to the problem reeks of everything that’s so amateurish about web 2.0 hype. how do wikis solve the problem of the politics of knowledge? how do wikis solve the problem of people too busy in their primary functions to share their knowledge? how do wikis solve the problems of asking and getting answers in natural language, from the relevant sources? your talk here, I’m afraid, is plain IT rant. software is not the solution to everything. wikis are not the solution, in and of themselves, to KM. no software alone is. Only as part of a strategic plan that includes organizational cultural guidelines (which in most orgs amount to a paradigm shift) and only with other IT tools can wikis become truly relevant.

  4. I just realized the extent this article reaches in terms of the usefulness of corporate wikis. Basically, I do agree with the basic tenet of the article: once a wiki is embraced as the tool where business operations are conducted on a daily basis, KM automatically follows.

    The point is, embracing the wiki way in the first place is the really difficult step to take. I have been working with companies that, although they truly embrace the idea of using a wiki as the primary space where work is done, fail to effectively pursue the process to its full extent.

    Hence my conclusion will be: you’re absolutely right, but the gap to cross in order to fully profit from the benefits of using a corporate wiki is yet to be in most cases. The cultural shift has not taken place yet, although the spread of the Web 2.0 participative mentality should eventually help the evolution to take place.

  5. You are absolutely right about “The real story is not about a better tool, but being able to work differently.” I’ve been involved in knowledge sharing, collaborative projects for 30 years. At first, with mechanical typewriters and photocopying expensive and not always easily available, we made “double double spaces” between the lines and used carbon copies. Coping with typos was a pain in the neck, sure, but what really mattered then too was already “being able to work differently”.

    Later, computer editing allowed visible modifications and comments: great, but it could lead to crazy-pavement visual results. Still, what mattered was “being able to work differently”. Same with some intranets that allowed versioning, like mayeticvillage.

    Wikis and other versioning apps won’t make people share knowledge and collaborate if they aren’t inclined to. But if they are, they are damned useful.

  6. Everything old is new again.

    You can make the case that wikis have/will make KM software tools obsolete. In fact, this is even implied in the paper you reference. However, every effective KM strategy involves proactive, real-time, knowledge gathering as well as “after-the-fact collection”. I think you may be referencing failed or poor KM initiatives if you think they only consist of “after-the-fact collection”.

    It seems to me we’re trying to make this into the “new great thing” instead of realizing, like most things, this is actually a really old technology. Wikis are really nothing more than 2nd generation hypermedia. Vannevar Bush, right? There have been deployments of similar technologies in KM for quite a while. It’s just with open source and other improvements in software engineering this technology has become more accessible (cheaper and easier).

    Everything old is new again. I remember when I first was introduced to Pi Calculus for use in a ‘new’ programming language for highly distributed and concurrent systems. I thought: WOW, no one has ever done this before, we’re doing something completely different. Then I discovered Tony Hoare and I realized, well this Pi stuff is simpler, sure, but not new. I know it’s silly I hadn’t read up on Tony Hoare. I just hadn’t been introduced to him for some strange reason.

    Anyhow, I always find it amusing how people think they’re breaking new ground or pioneering when all they’re doing is rehashing what others were doing more than 70 years ago. This is especially amusing when the person is only creating new terms for old things and they don’t even realize it, a la “MK,” that’s silly.

    You may consider citing the source of that paper you reference or even provide an URL. 🙂

    Finally, keep up the good work Zoli.

  7. Aaron,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve updated the post with a link to MindTouch. Originally I wanted to “protect” the source as I did not want this to become a debate with MindTouch.

  8. Anonymous says

    wiki is not ideal KM tool but it has kept the premises of potential KM tool’s for many businesses, i have been working with some blue chip companies and no doubt wiki has inspired them to start same sort of reasonably inexpensive KM tool inside companies

  9. Anonymous says

    I agree that Knowledge Management Software is going to say bye-bye to us. Or rather we are going to say bye-bye to it. It’s very complicated, very difficult to maintain, update and structure. It is the hell on earth for a system administrator. And the costs… In-justifiable, since with a web connection you have access to online knowledge data-bases created, maintained and updated by thousands of people.

    Arizona PEOs. For successful businesses.

  10. InTheCrapHole says

    I have a boss who is incompetent, and his favorite crutch to use when a solution isn’t obvious is to propose: “We need to development some kind of smart tool that will…” perform magic. So recently he wanted a wiki. We all have to tell him over and over that “someone” is going to have to put thought into the articles and “someone” is going to have to thoughtfully link them. But he insists that this tool (and others) are some kind of artificial intellegence system that will solve all our problems – and that’s what he tells his boss.

  11. hi, did any organization use a wiki tool in knowledge management, or it is just a theory by now?

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