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08 August 2007

When 2 Wiki

During this year I have been running a series of workshops for customers wanting to explore what SharePoint Server 2007 can and can't do. As people continue to debate what Web 2.0 means and whether or not it matters, it has been interesting to see its arrival within business. Questions about wikis and blogs have cropped up on a regular basis and there has been plenty of confusion about their uses (let alone what RSS means). To try and help, I have put together a short article outlining the similarities and differences between four web-based methods for publishing content: web pages, portals, wikis and blogs. The common factor uniting all four methods is that nothing more than a web browser is required to create and publish content.

Click Here to download the full article (2Mb PDF). A short description is provided below:

Please note that this post (and article) is not about defining precisely what is or isn't a wiki or debating what software you should use. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 has been used to provide screenshots demonstrating each method. The article was written for customers who are in the process of evaluating or implementing SharePoint and, hopefully, its contents will be useful for others too.

Web Page

Traditional web content management systems were the first tools to make publishing content easy by separating the design of web pages from authoring and publishing of content within those pages. A web designer controls the design and management of web pages. Authors can edit the pages and enter content within pre-determined placeholders. The screenshot below shows a page being edited:

Web pages managed in this way make it easy to create and publish content in a consistent and controlled manner (the tools usually include workflow and version history for approving pages prior to publishing). Great for information that warrants being published in such a way, such as monthly newsletters or standard intranet pages, but not so good if you want flexibility. Changes to page design and layout require technical expertise and can be slow to implement.

Portal

Portal pages look like traditional web pages but behave very differently. Content is placed within web parts (a.k.a. portlets, iviews, gadgets and various other names) that can be added to and removed from the page. They can be connected together (e.g. a 'contacts' web part can be used to filter an 'orders' web part to display orders for a given customer) and they can be moved around the page.

Portal pages are the least intuitive to add content to because they often aggregate information from multiple different sources. But they provide the easiest and most effective way to build topic-based pages - the 'one stop shop' view on related information. They also encourage the collection and re-use of content and avoid the duplication that can occur with the other three methods.

Wiki

Wikis are one of the new tools arriving on the scene. They are like a web page that contains just one single place holder for all content. The author enters content and controls its formatting and layout. The publishing process is simple - you click OK. Every time a page is edited, a new version is automatically created. You can review the entire version history for a wiki page, see what content has been added/deleted and, if required, restore a previous version meaning you don't have to worry if you make a mess of the page. The screenshot below shows a wiki page in edit mode:

Wikis include a new convention - the use of square brackets [[ ]] to link to other wiki pages within the site. In the screenshot above, you can see four such links. This makes it very easy for authors to create navigation between pages - if you know the name of the page, just surround it in square brackets.

In the screenshot below, the same page but in published mode (i.e. after the author clicks OK). One of the links - New Ideas - has a dotted underline, indicating it does not yet exist:

The first person to click on a link to a page that does not yet exist will be prompted to create it (provided they have editing permission) and can immediately start entering content:

Wikis are proving ideal for situations that require the rapid entry and update of content. Leaving full control to authors encourages groups to share information and opinions and the simplicity of a wiki page makes it a quick and easy process. The downside is that such flexibility increases the manual overhead required to maintain the pages. Not a problem when the workload is distributed but if authoring control is desired you will probably prefer the traditional web page for publishing content. If you do decide to step out of the web page comfort zone, a wiki site has the potential to become your most effective knowledge management system to date...

Blog

Blogs have been a huge hit on the Internet - Technorati claims to be tracking over 80 million of them. But their benefits within business have not been clear.

A blog post in edit mode looks similar to a wiki page - it has a title and a single place holder for entering content. The author controls the design and layout of the content within the place holder. When a blog post is published, it includes a permalink (for easy bookmarking - when you go to a blog site, the page will automatically display the latest published posts) and a link for leaving comments.

Blogs carry the identity of their authors, which is probably why individually-authored blogs tend to be more successful than group-authored ones. They have two key beneficial uses within business. 1) They are great for master-apprentice mentoring. If you are learning a new skill or interested in a particular subject, being able to subscribe to an expert's blog helps keep you up to date with their latest thoughts and opinions, and you can go through the archive of posts to catch-up on previous snippets worth knowing. 2) They are great for sharing news, as opposed to publishing it on a monthly basis - posting news (i.e. 'new information') as a blog enables people to provide feedback using the Comments feature and subscribe to the blog to keep track of the latest announcements and commentary.

Related blog posts:

Links:

  • Download this article ('Out of the box - Web of Knowledge')

Technorati tags: web 2.0; wikis; blogs; sharepoint; enterprise 2.0