Why Wiki

Actually the question I hear more often is something like:

“What is the business case rationale and ROI of installing social computing tools when we already have a complete array of collaborative tools in place?”

As you might surmise I work for a LARGE organization. People in large organizations talk like that. I like the short form better.

Anyway, I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to answer this question. I think I have the beginnings of an answer that I have not explicitly heard before.

It’s transaction cost.

OK, here is my thinking, if you buy into the thinking of my earlier post, Decisions…Decisions, the gathering of information is a critical step to effective decision making. I use the term “gathering” here loosely. You could easily substitute “learning”. Basically I mean all of the activity undertaken to build knowledge prior to making a choice among options. So the question now becomes, how do you effectively “gather”. In most cases, the gathering process is limited by time and resources, e.g.:

  • The decision has to be made by next week.
  • We only have one person to work on this.

In any case there is a limit to how much relevant information you can gather. The problem is how many relevant sources can you access within the limitations of the gathering process. In other words you have a fixed cost to use for the activity.

Let’s go back in time. In the old days the best (only) way to gather information was to talk to people, so given your time and resources you might be able to talk to 10 or 20 people and maybe only 2 or 3 had relevant information. As technology progressed over time, for that same fixed cost you could access more, relevant content: books, telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, Internet. So for the “same” cost you got more information, i.e. the transaction cost dropped.

Enter Social Media (or Web 2.0 if you prefer). Why is it an improvement over other ways of gathering already in place? The problem with most existing/traditional/legacy approaches is that there is only limited ability to filter easily to find the relevant information. This is commonly described as information overload.

The key component of social media that differentiates it from plain old HTTP and other broadcast media is the network of people, i.e. the community behind the information. This community and the connecting tissue (web 2.0) operate as a fantastic filtering mechanism. In other words it is easier to find relevant information, therefore the amount of relevant information gathered goes up and the transaction cost goes down.

OK, may be a bit rambling, but I just wanted to get my thoughts documented before I forgot my logic. If you can expand or clarify this argument, please do. If you think it is a load of c—, keep your thoughts to yourself.    ;-D

Decisions…Decisions

Decision making is the lifeblood of any organization. If you think about it decisions are the most important deliverable generated by almost every project, team, or individual in an enterprise. So why don’t we see or hear more about the nature of decision making and the elements that make it happen.

Two things got me going down this path, first someone was telling me how badly his organization was at making decisions, lots of talk and no action, or decisions made only to be reversed by the next level up the hierarchy. And of course there is the “no decision” decision.

The other catalyst for this post was Stowe Boyd’s post Balancing the ideas of many with the decisions of few.

After some thought, I have settled on a simple (maybe simplistic) model of decision making that may make making decsions easier. Here it is, there are two parts to decision making:

  • Gathering
  • Choosing

Thats it. And I think where we so often get into trouble is that we are gathering when we should be choosing (e.g. the ongoing debate and questioning and action items in meetings that were ostensibly scheduled to reach agreement) and we are choosing when we should be gathering (e.g. a client walks into your office and says “we should have a blog” out of the blue).

I think that by clearly understand when you are choosing or gathering AND understanding when you should be choosing or gathering could greatly improve any organization’s ability to make decisions. The processes of gathering and choosing are very different and we need to implement different mechanisms for each part of the process.

Segway to social media… Wikis, blogs, RSS, etc. are the quintessential tools for gathering. Used in this way, these tools can greatly facilitate the decision making process. Just be careful trying to turn social computing tools into the silver bullet for decision making, because they are not well equiped to handle the choosing side of the equation.

Let’s make sure we use social computing tools for their highest and best use, and not as a cure-all.

Personal Organization

Over the last week I have read two posts that have led me to write this. One was Stowe Boyd’s post Remember the Milk, Redux, and the other was Steve Rubel’s post Turn Gmail into a Social Network Hub.

Both of these deal with using web 2.0 tools to make our individual lives better (easier? more productive?). Reading these got me to thinking about tools and other approaches. I have an idea for another variation, that I have played with some, but haven’t perfected yet. Thanks to Steve and Stowe, I think I now see some improvements I can make in my process to make it viable.

Put it in a Wiki

First I will label my bias, I am partial to SocialText, but what I am describing here will probably work in any wiki.

My first attempt at using a wiki for organization was to build a top page index for each topic/project I was dealing with. It was clumsy and quickly became ineffective.

My approach this time is to create a unique page for each “transaction” I have (a phone call, a thought I want to capture, meeting notes, etc.) With the content documented, I can quickly index it with labels. For:

  • a “To Do” that is embedded in the note, I add a “todo” tag
  • a reference to a person I was talking to, I add their name as a tag
  • a project reference, I add the project name as a tag
  • etc.

Now the cool feature in SocialText that I use here is the dynamic ability to create “weblogs” based on tags. If I want to pull out all of my todo’s I just pull up the “ToDo Weblog” and everything is listed in traditional reverse chronological order.

 I have lots more to investigate here, but I see real promise in using wikis as a roll-your-own personal organization engine.

Why Blog

I started blogging about three years ago with one primary objective, to learn about blogging. I was not selling a service or product, I was not explicitly trying to be recognized as an expert in any topical area, I was just trying to see how this blogging thing worked. I tried posting, commenting on other blogs, creating link farm posts (small farms that were in context, not spam), I joined some blogging communities, read blogs that talked about blogging, etc.

In the end, since I haven’t had an agenda of bringing recognition to myself (though this blog has done that to some degree) I have not been very good at keeping my blog current or active.

The other day, I was talking to someone I met through my social media activities, and he essentially told me that if I want to be seen as someone that has value to bring to the table, I need to get the blog back going again. So once again, I am going to try to revive my blogging persona and rededicate my efforts to making this blog active and relevant . This time I am adding the focused objective of expressing my opinion and “expertise” with the hope of being recognized for what I know.

Here goes…