Thursday, October 23, 2008

Want to Wiki?

A few days ago I noticed a reference to an article by Scott Cook, CEO of Intuit, in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review. He’s a thoughtful observer of the business scene, so I wanted to read “The Contribution Revolution.” In spite of the fact that I teach at Harvard, I can’t get access to their educators site (read that “free for review” stuff), so I looked around hoping I’d find a summary somewhere.

I found something much more interesting! Cook has posted the article, complete with an incredible number of links to examples and resources, on a PBwiki. (This page has the article enhanced with links, the one originally published in HBR, and a podcast with Scott Cook.)I was familiar with the PBwiki service through a friend, who decided to try it out by posting a resumé there. It look fine, but I think he took it down when I pointed out that it could be edited by others! So I remembered it as an interesting free service (for a wiki with 3 or fewer users) but I hadn’t gotten around to really checking it out.

First, the article by Scott Cook. You simply have to read it—for the content, for the resources, and for the interesting use of the wiki technology. He has a concept of user contribution systems that is useful and that is borne out by the success of Intuit’s Tax Almanac and the TurboTax Live Community. The community is reached on the TurboTax Support page where there’s also a blog written by TurboTax employees. Not all their UGC efforts have been successful though, and that’s another piece of learning that you’ll take away from reading the article.

I was also intrigued by the fact that he put the article up as a wiki, so I joined. I’m now getting emails when users make an entry. I’m underwhelmed by that, but if it were my wiki, I’d want to know. Cook has implemented a number of features on the Contribution Revolution wiki. There’s a sandbox where the inexperienced like me can practice before we try to edit. When I publish this post, I’m going to upload it to the "Company Examples of USG folder". That will be my first contribution, but I have a feeling I’m going to be coming back to this wiki often for both its resources and its content.

PBwiki offers services for businesses, academic users and individuals. A superficial look doesn’t show any differences between the wiki features available to each group. It looks to me as if they’re using that as a way to point out the ways in which each group can use wiki technology. That’s fine, because the knowledge of most of us is probably limited to reading Wikipedia! There seems to be growing sentiment that wikis are going to be most useful for business applications as an important type of collaborative technology. PBwiki has a number of white papers; if you’re new to the area, check out “How Wikis Enable Enterprise Collaboration.”

I wrote about the GM wiki, on which they’re trying to get the public to help write the history of GM, a few months ago. I haven’t checked recently, but when I looked at visitor stats on, it had a large initial spike and then very little traffic. I wonder if many people are interested in contributing to a history of GM, especially in the current economic situation. I’m not a member of that wiki, so I can’t get inside to see whether there is noticeable activity. Control of who can edit is a feature of all wikis I’ve seen.

Scott Cook’s Contribution Revolution wiki is a fascinating example of wiki technology in action. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to first observe and then participate in a non-threatening environment. There are plenty of opportunities to comment, just like a blog. That’s an easy first step.

None of us will understand the potential of various social media techniques for our own organization until we participate in each one. That will mean some stops and starts, because some sites you join, some technologies you investigate, will turn out to be not relevant. That’s fine. But you won’t find the relevant ones unless and until you become active in the space. Scott Cook is only one CEO setting a good example of participation in the social media space!


Chris said...

Hi Mary,

Glad you enjoyed your experience with Scott's article and the wiki. If you want to get rid of the notification emails, you can go to and ask PBwiki to stop sending you notifications.

Chris Yeh
HBS MBA 2000
VP Enterprise Marketing, PBwiki, Inc.

MaryLou Roberts said...

In response to Chris at PBwiki, yes, it's easy to see which wikis are sending you updates and to unsubscribe if you want to. For now, I'm enjoying watching it.

I followed through with my intent to publish this post on the wiki, in the corporate examples folder. The instructions were excellent. I opened a new page, selecting a blank page. It opened a compose box like any other template-based platform. I wrote my brief message, make my link, and posted it. The entry showed up immediately.

Really interesting!