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Disambiguation – Why WIKIs work

In the constant reference to twitter and Facebook it is often forgotten that a wiki is one of the most powerful of social media tools. We are pretty much all familiar with perhaps the largest manifestation of a wiki in Wikipedia, but the tool and thinking that underpin it are widely used in highly diverse contexts and remain tremendously powerful. Of course a wiki is an example of crowdsourcing and, as its name suggests (wiki is Hawaiian for fast or quick), it has great potential to aggregate pools of diversely connected material developed continuously and iteratively by a wide array of participants very rapidly. Its ability to remain current and valid make it one of the most useful internal collaboration and sharing tools going and one of its great benefits is the power of disambiguation. That is a bit of a mouthful but it is an excellent example of how wikis encapsulate the social media mindset.

In essence the mindset embraces the idea of the validity and tolerance of multiple views perspectives and multiple experiences and understanding. This reflects life of course but some of the top down rigid organisational structures and practices are very intolerant of that and so very ineffective. By embracing social media thinking we can generate value from what were previously insoluble challenges.

I remember working with a large multinational organisation that was endeavouring to develop a company taxonomy or controlled language set so as to efficiencies in its data and information management. It was highly problematic as it became apparent that the different functions, regions and languages used common words and phrases to mean different things. This is a common problem and in a traditional approach the aim would have been to arrive at a single approved definition. The result would be frankly hopeless as it would only be used by those that recognised the definition, would not get buy in and be seen as another “from the centre” project that showed little respect for the diversity of organisation.

In a wiki context it is permissible – even encouraged – to pool the definitions so that contextual understanding remains for all parties, thereby generating opportunities for greater transparency and understanding, and so buy in and participation. That is the essence of disambiguation – it is not eliminating ambiguity but tolerating and even generating value from it

Now putting a wiki in place and getting it used – that is another story – but if you want to speak to twintangibles about that and social network stimulation feel free to give us a call.

  1. Excellent point Tim, very well put. I think the power and value of both disambiguation and social recommendations provide users with enough context as to potentially negate the need for the semantic web. Why try to enable computers to understand specific definition from context when people are much better at getting together and doing so themselves?

    I’m interested in exploring the practical uses of WIKIs more. Do you have any examples of how you think WIKIs are well used in business?

    • Thanks for the post and your kind comment. I would agree that it is all but impossible to beat the Mk1 brain for creative interpretation and so what I would call considered innovation and it is that “long tail” power that makes crowdsourcing so useful, and most likely to generate step or disruptive change. Ironically I think it is a debate that needs to be had about how highly targeted and segmented approaches to the use of social media from those with a marketing bent is actually counter productive in crowdsourcing – but we can have that one another day :o)

      On the subject of wikis – well I do think that the example I give above is a good one as we work in increasingly diversified and international business collectives – be they formally in one corporate body or on a more SM driven collaborative model. Its ability to acknowledge multiple perspectives and provide a mechanism for allowing participants to more readily understand others interpretation of terminology is a tremendous communication aid and time saver. To be a little more specific and expand on the example above, during the project we came across multiple definitions of what constituted “North America”. Each was valid and accurate for specific communities and we could tolerate that if we each understood the others perspective and it avoided the bun fight of having to arrive at one interpretation that would have alienated parties that didn’t share that view and so reduced general participation and collaboration because of the sense of “imposed” or insensitive rules.

      To go beyond that I find that any iterative environment is particularly suited to using wikis. So developmental environment or support desk scenario spring to mind. The non linear linking that wikis offer allows for complex connections to be easily expressed ( not unlike a mindmap) and its live status means it is simple to maintain in a ready and current state.

      Another very powerful business application for a wiki is its capacity to break silos of information and pull together highly diverse – and often dispersed – legacy data. Material can be left insitue if your path to it is mediated by a wiki. This is particularly powerful in project based work but also in M&A. It means that for example formal document structure in a retention cycle can remain in their repository and related “mashed” material relevant to the project is exposed though the same “portal” and relationships outside of the project can be rendered as well.

      Hope that helps

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