Wikis are not Social Software

Just a quickie while this blog lives in the templateless limbo that it is now in.

Wikis have a well earned reputation of being a quick-deployment option that is easy enough to explain to your colleagues: “It sits there, and I can edit it, and you can edit it,. and it will always be there when you need it”.

Wikis are not social tools however. They are collaborative tools. This is an important distinction, mainly because the value that social tools create comes from their inherent social components: Sharing, currency, relevance and the filters that can be built from social network data.

(Good) Social Software on the other hand will focus on the personality above all else. Who is creating this? Why did they create it? Who else should know?

The obvious killer app, on first blush at least, is to combine these two things. The truth is: many have tried and they have all more or less failed. I think the killer app is probably a lot more subtle.

11 thoughts on “Wikis are not Social Software

  1. In theory, yes I agree, wikis should be collaborative tools. But in reality, open wikis like wikipedia are filled with personal views and emotional filled viewpoints and far more social than you think. Think about this, why anyone can make changes, only around 200 people have the “final say” in allowing information. Statistically, there is no way that would enough individuals to have a neutral, unbiased opinions. Not to mention that I think that most of these individuals are late teen , early 20 yr olds, kinda wonder how reliable it really is.

    What is scary is the most of the erroneous information is on the sciences, a topic one would think is black and white. For instance, I edited something regarding the scientific method (as an former chemical engineer, we require have more chemistry and physics than chemists themselves, while making for an undesirable undergraduate experience, but I do know science, its power and weaknesses) It was a very minor change, something that should have gone unnoticed, but it is currently a hot emotional topic. I get a flurry of emotionally charges responses and regardless of my best explanations, mob rule won. One person even claimed that the “scientific method is wrong” if it contradicted their beliefs.

    So yes, wikis have more of a social aspect than you think.

  2. I think I sort of agree. Wikis powered by s/w like Mediawiki are definitely less social than something like Atlassian’s Confluence. On a recent 17k user Confluence implementation I led, the most widely used feature was the Personal Space. Essentially, it is a wiki about you. Subsequently, all attribution for content within the wiki is hyperlinked (via your name) to a wiki about you. It somewhat bridges the gap between who you are and what you produce. You have to deal with the double-edged sword of blank-slate syndrome for a rich user profile, but it gets you farther than an email and a username.

  3. Wikis are a great little tool for small groups of people building pages but it’s just an ingredient. Sugar doesn’t make a cake. That said, they’re a great piece of the puzzle and they’ve been the pink tasting spoon of the enterprise (as I’ve blogged here http://snurl.com/23va6).

    I thought Andrew MacAfee’s “Enterprise Bullseye” said it best. The people who collaborate on something like a wiki are people who work *VERY* closely together and feel comfortable editing each other’s work.

    80%0-90% of wiki pages aren’t edited based on stats I’ve seen from customers and even in the documents within our product. No surprise, but hardly social.

  4. I am tempted to say that if your wiki is not social then you are doing it wrong, but perhaps you can elaborate. I get the point about them being collaborative, but I see them as also doing the things you mention above that would qualify them as social (in particular social filtering), but perhaps that is because we do blogging, bookmarking and other filtering activities in wikis as well.

    I tend to think that good collaboration must also be social, so a definition of social that excludes collaboration is perhaps wrong.

    Anyway – that made me think for a minute. I’ll bill you for the time when I bump into you next ;-)

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