Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Collocated Teams's Wiki Usage

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I am a longtime user of the Wikibook collaborative work tool, but had never considered it to be more than an at-times useful, at-other-times worse than nothing at all solution for groups to document their systems, processes, and other group-specific data. Viewing the tool through the lens of CSCW lends it somewhat more gravitas, and simultaneously makes more transparent the relative strengths and weaknesses of the format. The goals of CSCW are to support distributed groups (be they geographically disparate, spread across a campus, or working in different shifts), and to make those groups more effective in their goals.

While it’s true in many cases that an organization’s wiki achieves these goals through aggregation and synergy, its success depends to some degree in the team’s ability to overcome the challenge of coordinating their efforts effectively, ala Steiner’s Process Loss. The more contributors to a wiki, the more viewpoints - i.e. strength in diversity. This is offset in part by the committee effect, i.e. potentially many points of view to align. In my experience, users get out of the wiki what they put in - GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), but this is also mediated to a large degree by two factors: the find-ability of information (the categorization model used by the organization) and the commitment by the organization to maintain the wiki in a reasonable state of currency.

It takes strong leadership to support a team’s being allotted time from productive work hours to populate and groom a wiki’s contents, but if care is taken to quality control and to conscientiously keep the tool up to date it can be a very valuable resource for a team, collocated or not.

Richard Lee