I recently ran a 33-day survey on best practices in the wiki world. The project consumed a lot more time than I originally expected but it was well worth the effort. Not only did we -- Eastwick -- achieve what we set out to do (a catalog of best practices), but we also learned several things about the medium that are now helping to set the stage for a deeper investigation on emergence.
What did we learn? At least three things:
The wiki world has become a living laboratory on emergent behavior. Many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is that the simplicity of this DIY medium is enabling so many people, with so many different interests, to run experiments on ad hoc group formation. In our survey, we saw clear behavioral patterns among leaders and contributors, echoing what folks like Suw Charman and other students of wiki have said about successful communities (e.g., the prevalence of super-nodes, the well-connected folks in online communities that may or may not have an honored place in the official corporate hierarchy.) If an organization wants to learn about emergence, or how to support it, existing wiki communities provide a good open classroom.
Wikis today are being used to tackle lost or forgotten challenges. Again, perhaps the biggest reason for this is the DIY nature of the medium. Almost anyone can launch a wiki for almost any kind problem, as long as it lends itself to the kind "wisdom of crowds" that wikis can create. In our survey we got to see lots of problem-solving, from the sublime to the sublimely absurd. What's really encouraging: as more people learn about the problem-solving capabilities, more of the sublime will be put to the test. And people will not need to wait for institutional powers (say businesses or government) to sanction a cause.
Institutional powers are only beginning to understand the potential of the medium. In fact , we learned that very few wiki sites today are officially sanctioned or sposored by any organization. The exceptions were notable (a tax wiki sposored by Intuit, for example). But during the course of our survey, a number of wikis with great commercial potential emerged (one wiki was actually acquired during the course of our survey). Our bet: businesses will very soon seize upon this simple medium and begin experimenting on a larger scale.
Which brings us to the subject of a new survey -- something I will call Wikiwise. Each Monday, beginning tomorrow, I will use the eastwikkers and Future Tense blogs to feature an organization that is officially supporting social media inside the enterprise to promote values associated with emergence -- staff autonomy, business efficiencies, and open culture. And as with 33 wikis, I will run the new survey with the help of the community. If you have a recommendation, please comment below. Your nominee does not need to use wikis per se, but it must be committed to a social media tool that is supporting emergence.
And yes, we are running this survey for one year, with two weeks off for vacation. There will be rest for the wikked.