Do's and don'ts for managing IT projects with wikis

Wikis are a simple technology for managing information -- but used simplistically, they can do more harm than good

MediaWiki is a popular open source wiki and is used for WikiPedia

MediaWiki is a popular open source wiki and is used for WikiPedia

Wikis help share information, not manage projects

Although wikis aid in project management, they don't actually provide tools for project management, notes Mike Schultz, president of Topcoder, an independent application development company that uses wikis extensively for its distributed group of software engineers. He finds that wikis offer an excellent way to manage documents, but they aren't a good source control mechanism.

"A wiki is good for search. But if I am involved with you on a project, I don't care about search. I want to know what is assigned to me," says Mark Mader, CEO of SmartSheet.com, an on-demand provider of project collaboration software. If a member of a project group has 10 things to do, a wiki is not the tool that will tell that person the next step, he notes.

Globant's Villarreal says wikis are ideal if you work in a company with, say, 30 or 40 engineers and you want that knowledge to be fully documented and available to everyone. But wikis aren't appropriate if your engineers all want to have control over the knowledge, he adds.

And it's critical to think through the information organization that your wiki will use before you deploy it, Villareal advises: Everyone must be on the same page in developing the criteria used to organize information. But he says that step is often neglected in a wiki's deployment.

Wikis aren't secure

Even where IT uses wikis wisely, there is an underlying risk to having project information stored on wikis, says Data Portability's Brim-DeDorest: "It is often too easy to register and say that you are anyone. It typically has a very low barrier to entry." So wikis are not appropriate for editing sensitive documents.

Wikis don't share data well

Wikis' major technology weakness are their substandard ability to import or export data from and to external data sources. But Data Portability's Brim-DeForest says that gap will be fixed. "We are building a data portability stack, so an application developer can help to build documents to support, control, share, and remix data across all of their social networks rather than having it in silos that are difficult to export," he says.

Already, some wikis that have taken the first steps to support information interchange, Brim-DeForest notes, such as Confluence, which lets users import RSS feeds.

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