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How to Use an Open Source Wiki to Transform Information Exchange

This open source software for document management and collaboration is popping up at midsized companies. Does your organization have the culture of trust to make it work?

wiki < wick'ee > (n.)

  1. Web-based software that allows users to add, edit or remove content.


  2. A word that comes from the Hawaiian expression wiki wiki, meaning "quick" or "fast."


  3. The first wiki was created in 1994 as WikiWikiWeb and put online in 1995 by Ward Cunningham.


  4. Source: Wikipedia

At the USC Annenberg Center for Communication (ACC) in Los Angeles, the process of scheduling dozens of annual journalism and media-related conferences used to be quite a mess. "It was about a million emails and phone calls with forwards and attachments for catering, menus, hotel information and other activities," says Todd Richmond, a senior research fellow at ACC. "It was a nightmare."

As ACC's events programs expanded over the past year, the workload became overwhelming for the organization's lone events coordinator to manage. Then it occurred to Richmond that he could use a wiki: a simple, open source software tool he'd relied on for small projects in the past. Could it solve his event-scheduling problem?

A wiki creates a free-form shared space in which multiple users can create and edit one another's documents. Everyone works with the same version of a document, and changes are tracked so they can easily be undone.

At Richmond's urging, ACC turned to a wiki from Socialtext Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. The software restored order, saving the events coordinator about 10 hours a week by improving accuracy and adding structure through the use of templates. Details like catering, room reservations, equipment logistics and travel information are now entered by the people who know the information best. Everyone involved can be notified of updates by a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed.

No longer having to worry about "who's got different versions of a document is a huge relief," says Richmond. And best of all: The tool costs only a few dollars a month.

This was first published in May 2006

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