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Wikis in the workplace

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A wiki is a Web site that can be edited by anybody who's granted permission. That can mean a workgroup, a department, or every employee in a company. The people who access the data and documents in a wiki are also the authors of the site, making it ideal for information sharing.

Managers may fear a wiki will disrupt workers and their workflow and prove a distraction from "real" work. Or they look at wikis as a fad that will end up costing time and labor (mostly in the IT department).

That's why many wikis are launched as tests, often by departments with technically savvy workers or groups with a penchant for experimentation. Some are officially sanctioned, while others sneak in under the radar.

Companies should think long and hard about what type of wiki to use, as switching from one to another isn't easy. The nomenclature is sometimes proprietary and will almost certainly change if you change wikis, meaning your users will have to learn a whole new system. "Once people use it, they become a part of the system," says Marc Laporte, who runs a consulting business called Avantech.net that builds, installs, and maintains open-source wikis based on the Tikiwiki platform.

Because wikis are designed for collaboration, forcing their use is contrary to their nature. Instead, wikis are most successful when they're allowed to grow from a grassroots effort.

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