The US Army is in the news lately but not for what you might think. In an article in the New York Times, they are reportedly doing a three-month pilot of converting seven of their existing field manuals using a series of wikis, or collaborative Web sites that anyone can contribute to.
It is an intriguing idea, to say the least. Given the top-down chain-of-command culture in the Army, it will certainly be a challenge to accept all kinds of contributions from the rank and file. But this shows that wikis have certainly come of age. In addition to Wikipedia, there is Medpedia, a wiki that collects medical information contributed by both consumers and doctors, Wordnik, part dictionary, part thesaurus, and part word maven discussion forum, and many others that are behind private firewalls.
In the olden days of say the mid-1990s, we had corporate Intranets that were designed to be document and knowledge repositories that were read-only Web collections. Those days seem so quaint now. Wikis are a far better idea because they are two-way communication pathways. But still, wikis aren't easy collaborative tools. You need a very well-defined sense of community, a dedicated group of authors who have thicker skins and won't fold up their laptops and run home when they are first edited, and other skills. It is worth reading this post here at Future Changes by Stewart Mader for his own suggestions at how to ensure success for the Army and other implementations.
There are several free wiki service providers, and some that charge reasonable per-user monthly fees, such as:
- SocialText Workspace, free for up to 50 users and one wiki, then starts at $6/user/month
- Wetpaint, free
- MediaWiki, free, open source
- Jive SBS, starts at $3/user/month
- Google Sites (form. Jotspot), free