Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wiki Collective Ownership

The collective ownership of the wiki the content, aside from sounding “too liberal” for many managers I know, has a limitation that you should be aware of. In an XP development team there are some factors that help collective ownership being effective.
  • Team size is relatively small, often sharing the same space: clarifying or correcting a published information is a quick action, involving no ceremony.

  • Teams have a well defined common goal, meaning that the concept of “what is good for the team” is close enough to “what is good for the individual”. Frequent role switching help enforce this perspective also;

  • Development teams are constructing a system. Crafting, and seeing something growing, with everybody’s contribution, helps feeling part of a greater whole, enforcing the community feeling.
You can’t expect these factors to be equally effective when you promote these tools at a company level. In an average company, individual profiles and goals are much more spread around than in a single development team, and have also a longer timescale (XP-like documentation often lacks support for the next project).

Users and contributors
Yet, the wikipedia success story might make things look too easy, when in fact they’re not. The underlying model sounds like this:
  • some pioneer contributor start writing on some known topics

  • readers benefit from the information, and if they have something to add to make the information more complete, they are invited to contribute.
What’s missing here is that this model works with big numbers, let’s say a contributor every thousand readers (I have no stats, but you get the idea). But wikipedia is a world service so this approach works anyway. The same might apply to Linux for example, I know many linux users, but I think none of them added a line of code to it. So, size is probably factor number one if you are expecting “spontaneous” contributions to the content.

On a smaller scale you won’t get the same result, unless you really have a shared “vision” and/or a common “goal” and you actively push for it.

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