This post was originally published on February 21, 2019, and updated most recently on March 25, 2021.
When you think of wikis, Wikipedia and Wikileaks are probably the most famous examples that spring to mind. The first is an online encyclopedia. The second is a nonprofit organization that publishes secret information and classified media. But what is a wiki? And how can you and your team use them to improve your business? To understand this, we need first to take a look at their origins.
The beginnings of crowdsourced websites
The wiki was first introduced to the English language by an American computer programmer named Ward Cunningham. He was in the airport on a trip to Hawaii when a member of staff told him to take the “wiki-wiki bus” between terminals. When he asked what that was, the man replied: “wiki-wiki means’ quick’.” He needed to take the quick bus.
The word stuck with him, and he named his first website after it — a user-edited site called WikiWikiWeb — in 1994.
You might be wondering: What was so quick about this website? Well, the speedy element has nothing to do with the loading time, but everything to do with the content creation and publishing process.
What is a wiki?
Wikis are different from other websites in that they don’t require any coding knowledge. This means the average non-techy user can sit down and create or edit a page without prior HTML training. There is also no content manager or editor to act as a gatekeeper between creator and what goes live; users create and publish their own work, sharing each edit with the world immediately.
“The beauty of Wiki is in the freedom, simplicity, and power it offers.”- Chris Cunningham
While Cunningham’s site was popular, it wasn’t until seven years later in 2001 that Wikipedia was really beginning to dominate. Since 2001, thousands of wiki sites have popped up all over the web.
Thanks to Cunningham and his chance encounter in an airport, the word ‘wiki’ is now associated with its present-day definition: a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users. Today, wikis are a discussion medium, a knowledge resource, and a repository all in one.
7 Ways wikis can help organizations
It’s no secret that wikis are close to our hearts. Our very own project management tool Backlog has a wiki feature for projects, and we use wikis every day to keep track of the extensive documentation we require for all three of Nulab’s collaborative apps.
But is it right for your organization? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits.
1. Achieve more together
The collaborative ethos of a wiki facilitates discussion and encourages information sharing across a company. Plus, the speedy publishing process encourages users to contribute more frequently.
2. Find content fast
Wikis are searchable (they all come equipped with a navigation bar) and contain a network of links that tie pages together. This is especially interesting when you consider the problems surrounding traditional methods of shared folders full of Word docs and spreadsheets. Sure, you can separate your department-specific docs into separate folders, but what if one document applies to more than one department? Do you make a copy for each folder? Then you have to consider updating that doc in the future. How will you carry out those updates across all of the documents? How do you ensure standardization? Who’s responsible for this? It’s not impossible, but it’s also a bit of a headache.
3. Keep everyone in the loop
Because editing is easy and accessible by anyone, you can update your wiki with new info as your project progresses and then fill it out with more information as it becomes available to you.
4. Easily add links to pages that don’t exist yet
This is particularly special because it means you can set out a place for the information, then allow other users to populate the page. Think of it as a kind of project to-do list and a public request for information. The more info everyone adds, the better the original page becomes.
5. Create a repository
Wikis let you store company information all in one easily accessible place. Wave goodbye to paperwork, employee handbooks, new starter welcome packs, and messy shared folders full of MS Word docs (which are great if you have Word, but not so great if you’re on your phone or work with G Suite).
6. Retain control
While wikis are all about community editing, modern versions often have features that let you prevent editing, wiki vandalism, or keep individual pages private. And the kind you’ll find in project management apps like Backlog enables you to control who has access to them on your team.
7. Enhance training (especially for new starters)
Wikis are a constant source of information about the business. This means policies, procedures, guidelines, best practices, and IT help, all in one place. This saves HR managers everywhere from having to explain sickness procedures or holiday booking processes over and over again.
Things to include in your wiki
While it very much depends on you and your team and what you need to get your work done, there are some things that are almost universally good to have in your wiki for easy reference.
- Legal documentation
- Brand guidelines
- Goal references
- Media they will use
- Team structure/hierarchy
- Contact information
How to make a team wiki
You can create a Wiki using MediaWiki, which you host on your own server. The site itself is also a wiki and leads you through the creation process step by step. If you don’t have your own server, you could use a hosted wiki service, such as Wikia, one of several options out there.
If you’re interested in wikis from a management perspective, then consider investing in a project management tool that lets you create cloud-based wikis for team members to access, edit, and download wherever they are.
The more accessible and more collaborative you make your processes, the more productive your team will be in the long run. And another bonus? No more hunting around for deleted or strangely_named_misc_docs in the company shared folder. Phew!
For an even more in-depth look at wikis, check out our Wiki Guide.