What’s a Wiki?

Wikis - community-maintained documentation

A wiki is a website that allows you to create and maintain any number of interlinked web pages using a web browser and a simplified WYSIWG (what you see is what you get) text editor.

Wikis are often used collaboratively by a user community to capture, maintain and distribute information. Examples include business intranets, project websites, community forums, and knowledge management systems.

Businesses are increasingly using wikis to support online business documentation including operations manuals, policies, procedures, and service and product descriptions.

Have a look at this wiki-based operations manual website.

Wikis provide major advantages over traditional paper-based documentation including:

  • Dynamic. Wikis support keyword searches, multi-media support, and cross-referencing with hypertext links.
  • Maintainability. Wikis can be quickly learned, used, and maintained by any non-technical user.
  • Instantaneous. Wikis don’t rely on a publisher to create and circulate document updates.
  • Accessibility. Wikis can be can accessed and maintained from any location at any time.
  • Change control. Wikis keeps track of every edit and previous versions are easily restored.
  • Flexibility. Wiki structure, navigation, and style are easily customized.
  • Minimal cost. Wikis are available in numerous open source systems.

Many organizations have resisted wikis on the basis that community-maintained documentation is unreliable. They argue that document errors, omissions, and inconsistencies flourish in the absence of editorial oversight. Research, however, has shown that this is not the case.

The British journal Nature examined the relative accuracy of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. They discovered that these two sources were very comparable in terms of factual errors, omissions, and misleading statements. Given the documentation quality possible with Wikipedia’s diverse community of 13,000 volunteer contributors, it is probable that equal or superior documentation quality can be maintained with smaller communities using similar controls.

Wikis can be set-up on virtually any webserver, whether in-house or third-party hosted. Wikis are particularly attractive to small businesses that have no intranet or local area network (LAN). Almost all website hosting companies provide the tools required to support a wiki including server-side scripting and database support.

Once installed and configured, the wiki can be seamlessly integrated with your existing website. This approach requires no hardware or software investment but instead levers your existing website hosting services.

Wikis provide a very powerful and easy-to-use tool for business owners to document their day-to-day operations. Rather than creating costly third-party dependencies, Wikis empower the subject matter experts (i.e., the owners and designated staff) to capture, maintain, and protect your business’ intellectual property. As a result, they provide a low-cost, low-overhead approach to documentation that will improve organizational scalability, streamline business operations, and strengthen future business options.

Look past the out-dated and paper-based manuals of the past and give serious consideration to empowering your business and staff with wikis.