Starting a New Collaborative Space for Small Groups

I fielded a question last week about what factors are the most important in launching a wiki to support a small working group, such as a committee, task force or team. I’ve decided to address it a bit more broadly by looking those factors for online collaboration in general.

In my experience designing and facilitating collaborative spaces online for large and small association, volunteer groups, alumni and others, you need the following to maximize successful outcomes:

  • Have a very clear and focused goal for using the space that all participants understand and support. The narrower the better;
  • Provide ample handholding and individual training for those who need it;
  • Leadership of the group MUST be avid champions for using the technology;
  • Start with one group that is excited to use the tool as a pilot test and early exemplars. Their success will draw others to adopt the tool;
  • Make sure the technology you use is very user friendly and provides the functionality your group will need to achieve their desired outcomes. Bad tech is the kiss of death.

Tools like a wiki can be greatly valuable for group collaboration but people who are new to it must have the value for THEM explained and heavily emphasized. A really strong WIIFM value proposition will get late adopters over the hump.

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Wiki Markup: What You See is Hard to Do

James Robertson has point out the obvious weakness of wiki tools: Wiki markup has no future:

The lack of WYSIWYG editing is a big barrier to adoption within organisations, and on the wider web. There are only a limited number of users that have the time, skills and inclination to learn wiki markup. It’s a fundamental usability problem, and the spread of wikis will always be niche as long as wiki markup remains.

This is a rather heretical point of view among wiki aficionados, however it is right on the money. If the outcome of using a wiki is to make content creation easy for a distributed group, wiki markup gets in the way of achieving that outcome. Most people can use a WYSIWYG editor if they have used a word processor in the past. This covers most Web users, especially in a corporate environment. Using obscure text code is an unnecessary and anachronistic hurdle to put wiki users through.

Stikipad Losing It's Stick

I have recommended Stikipad as an inexpensive host wiki service for the last few years. As far as I can tell, the owners of the service have abandoned it since June and it’s performance is degrading. If you are using it I highly recommend migrating your stuff to another site before it goes away. Such is life with using start-up web-based services.

Here are a few alternatives:

  • Google Docs (free, wiki-ish, web-based, Office clone)
  • PB Wiki ($500/year for up to 5 users)
  • Wikispaces ($50/year for one wiki, unlimited users)
  • Confluence ($500/year for up to 15 users)
  • SocialText (Free for up to 5 users, call for pricing otherwise*)

* Come on SocialText! At least put entry level pricing online.

Podcast: Interview with Jeremiah Owyang on Measuring Social Media

I am working on an article for Associations Now about how to measure social media success. The questions I am exploring: How can you measure success with these tools? How do you know you are creating value with a blog, podcast, wiki, RSS, etc.? What’s beyond the page view?

I interviewed Jeremiah Owyang, about this issue last week. Jeremiah is with PodTech, an online video network. Jeremiah has been writing about social media, and metrics in particular, quite a bit this year. He even started a Facebook group on social media measurement.

In the recording attached to this post we discuss the idea of measuring engagement, subjective vs. objective measures and what the near term future might look like. Jeremiah shares several tips on getting started with measuring social media (follow the link for a write-up of these). Thanks Jeremiah!

Drop me a line if you are using social media at your association and would like to share your experience for the article. You don’t have to have solved the problem (if you have you can write the article!) but I am very interested in talking about the value you think your efforts are providing and issues related to measuring that value.

Update: Jeremiah has posted a few additional comments and links related to what we discussed in the interview.

World Bank 2.0: The BuzzMonitor

I just heard about a new open source application for tracking discussion of specific issues in social media (blogs, tags, podcasts, wikis, etc.) online: The BuzzMonitor. This was developed by the World Bank for their own purposes and then released as an open source application. From the about page:

Like many organizations, we started listening to blogs and other forms of social media by subscribing to a blog search engine RSS feed but quickly understood it was not enough. The World Bank is a global institution and we needed to listen in multiple languages, across multiple plaforms. We needed something that would aggregate all this content, help us make sense of it and allow us to collaborate around it. At the time, no solution (either commercial or open source) met those requirements so we decided to build our own.

We were playing with Drupal, a solid, open-source content and community platform for different pilots. Drupal being so flexible and module oriented, we decided to write the specifications for a “super aggregator” that would help us people understand, follow and collaborate around mentions of the organization online.

I asked Pierre Guillaume, who announced it on the Social Media Measurement Group on Facebook, how they are using it internally at the World Bank. His response:

Thanks David. We are rolling it out to communicators across the bank with a guide on how to use tagging, voting, rss feeds etc…there is, not surprisingly, a bit of a learning curve both in terms of “getting” social media and using the tool but some champions are emerging, embedding findings obtained through the buzzmonitor in their regular comm and web reports, adding relevant bloggers to their contacts etc.. We also feature the most recently voted on items on a page available two clicks down from the intranet home page, for all staff to see.

Sounds like a great tool for raising awareness of how issues important to the Bank are evolving online. I recommend listening to the online conversation as a key activity for any organization and this looks like a great tool for assisting in that. I have downloaded the application and will give it a try this week.

A Couple Conference Opportunities for June

There are two conferences I’ll be attending in DC in June that I wanted to let you know about. They happen to overlap but are in the same building, so you could hit them both if you wanted.

First, Jeff De Cagna is spearheading a social media unconference for association executives on June 5, 2007 at ASAE & the Center’s meeting space in the Reagan Building. The event is free and will be driven by the attendees. Simply add your name to the registration list on the web site if you wish to attend. I’m very excited this event is happening and I encourage you to attend if you are passionate about social media and/or want to learn more about it.

The second event is the Gilbane Washington DC conference on June 5-6, 2007, also at the Reagan Building. This conference focuses on content management technologies for government and non-profit organizations. Content is tracked, so there should be something for everyone. I will be facilitating a panel on integrating association and content management systems and processes. This event is not free but you can get a $100 discount by entering my last name as a promotional code when you register.

I hope to see you at one or both events!

First Product Wiki in the Association Space?

Avectra, vendor of one of the major association management systems, has launched a public wiki to support their products.
This is the first public wiki to support an association-dedicated product that I am aware of. I think there is a good chance this will build critical mass with their customers. Association staff are going to have high incentive to contribute since this is such a major part of their management systems yet there are few to no resources, such as commercially published books, on the subject.

It might work better if the user groups dedicated to the AMS vendors launched their own wikis, maintaining some independence.

(Spotted on Wes Trochlil’s blog.)