The WAN and the wiki generation, Part 1

* The emergence of wikis

A number of years ago, Jim was hired by one of the country’s leading universities to help it design the network for its new school of management. The goal of the university was to create a learning environment in which computing was leveraged to enhance education. The project was a success from a technological perspective. However, the project introduced Jim to some of the generational differences that impact the deployment and use of IT. In particular, the older faculty was not comfortable with computing and as a result few of them utilized the newly available resources. It was only the younger faculty, those who had graduated in the last 10 or 15 years, who embraced the new technology and used it to change how they taught their classes.

A couple of weeks ago, Jim attended a college hockey game with two friends, both in their early 30s. Jim enjoyed sharing the experience of being at the game with his friends. However, his friends in addition to being with Jim also shared the experience with other friends both inside and outside of the arena through a stream of text messages. Sending text messages to friends during the game was not something that Jim would typically do, but this was entirely natural to his friends.

This brings us to wikis. According to the best known wiki - Wikipedia, a wiki is a Web site that allows visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring.

Another definition suggests that a wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.

That source also states that wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself. Like many simple concepts, "open editing" has some profound and subtle effects on wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.

We look at wikis as part of the larger market for collaboration. This is a market that many analyst firms are predicting will explode over the next couple of years. As is well known, there are many collaboration tools currently in the market, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint. The next two newsletters will look at why companies would use a wiki, which is based on open source software, potentially in addition to standard collaboration tools. The newsletters will also point out the impact of this on the enterprise WAN and will define what is meant by the wiki generation.

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