I had a colleague who banged on and on and ON about wiki-documentation. His point, and it’s a valid one, was that all IT systems documents should be wiki and anyone entitled to read a systems document should be entitled to update it.
He’s right of course, culture and software permitting: it wasn’t revolutionary when he propounded it 4 years ago and it’s even more obvious now.
In fact we did this for years without the need for Web 2.0 platforms. Almost all corporate documentation is multi-authored and multi-layered. Click File>Properties on any word document from your corporate intranet (the expenses claim form, the new starter’s induction pack, whatever), and you’ll find out when and where it was first written. These documents are are like DNA code, with sentences left over from the Paleocene switched off and invisible but still tucked away in Track Changes, and with other bits added in fresh and shiny and new today. I use a timesheet first put together in 1998, it’s fit for purpose, so it’s survived.
Two recent examples brought this into focus for me:
I’ve been working on help files which have been through three incarnations that I know of since they were written in 2006, and some of them were copied and pasted from elsewhere before we got hold of them. A phrase here from 2006, some bullets added in 2008, a shiny new screenshot now, and here you go.
Likewise the training material I’ve been reviewing today has edits from numerous other people and the properties file shows it originated outside both the company I work for and the company we bought it from, and a lot of the wording reads like sales brochures for the product in question – not hard to work out why. (I should say here that I know the purchasing path, and this material has been re-used and changed entirely legally).
So the benefit of Wiki software is not that it allows us to steal and plagiarise (I mean ‘allows us to re-use existing intellectual capital’ of course). We do that already without special tools.
No, the benefit of Wiki software is that it lets us track who’s added what. It is certainly a benefit: it would be nice to know what fool messed up the formatting and lost me 5 hours of my life sorting it out. But to some extent that’s just prurience: I’m as interested as anyone in checking back through the Wikipedia articles I’ve edited to see how they’ve developed since. (You mean you don’t do that? You should! It’s fascinating, in a bin-searching stalkery kind of way.)
Once the prurience is over, the only real benefits of actual wiki software are the ability to revert to a previous version at the touch of a button, and to hold people to account. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve served enough time in governance and business controls functions to know that these are real benefits. But people have been stealing each others’ stuff – er – working collaboratively over time – for years already without Web 2.0 tools to help them.