We all know how challenging collaborative writing is: Jefferson carried around a copy of his original draft of the Declaration of Independence until his dying day, so people could see how it read before Franklin and his committee ruined it by putting it in the form we know today. Self-evident, indeed! And you think revising your Board manual is hard!
I’m not sure software innovation will do anything about easing ego problems, but it has certainly eased the need to travel between Virginia and Philadelphia to work on a document together. In our search for collaboration tools we've been looking at web sites that in one way or another make use of the wiki model - pages which are freely editable by a community of users. The term wiki, from the Hawaiian creole for "quick" , was first used by extreme programming maven Ward Cunningham to describe the technique when he used this approach for the Portland Pattern Repository. His "People, Projects and Patterns" Wiki there has been running for over a decade, so the wiki has been around for a while, even though it is just drifting into popular use.
Probably the most dramatic wiki project is the wikiPedia - an online encyclopedia edited by -- the entire world. A team of volunteers looks over the changes each day and reverts the edits they deem unacceptable back to the prior version. But online projects using open and collaborative editing are starting up on a variety of topics – for example, look at the corporate watchdog site at knowledge.org
The page you are currently reading is maintained on a commercial wiki server: www.editme.com The charge: $4.95 a month to create and maintain your own wiki site! Editme lets you set security on every page - making it publically editable, editable by users with a password, or just by the site administrator. My articles are locked down - our staff can make edits or corrections - but others can just read them. But here's a page you can all try out the editor on. Just click Edit under the Page section of the right hand menu! A change log lets an administrator view all changes to a page, and roll back to a prior version if necessary. Pages can have comments, images, and a list of file attachments. I can make a list of features I wish it had, but for $4.95 a month, it's hard to complain. You can use it as a classic wiki; but I've seen how some small organizations have used it as a poor man's content management system for their main web site. We've been trsting it out as a vehicle for an online help system, where users are free to edit text and make comments.It won PC Magazine’s Editor's Choice back in Dec 03 for best wiki service.
A more full featured wiki tool in the making can be found at www.jotspot.com. Meant to be used as a tool for remote team collaboration, a variety of installable applications can be added to this wiki, including a bug-tracking system, a discussion forum, a contact manager, and a calendar. The beta is free, but the development team makes it clear that eventually there will be a charge for the service.
If you want to get pointed to be few more wiki's to explore the variations on this theme, check out all the sites mentioned in Business Week's article of about a year ago. If you are looking for ways to manage collaborative writing projects in your organization, you might just give one of these tools a try.
Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.