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[ontolog-forum] The Amazing Wikis - GCN - 2006.08.21

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: Marc Wine <marc.wine@xxxxxxx>
Cc: Yak <yak@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[cwe-talk]" <cwe-talk@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Peter P. Yim" <peter.yim@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2006 12:33:02 -0700
Message-id: <44EB5BEE.7040007@xxxxxxxx>
[Slightly off topic (sorry!) ... but then ... this is the 
platform we are collaborating on too!  =ppy]    (01)

Thanks to Marc Wine for informing us about this article at the 
Ontolog Forum weekly call today.  =ppy    (02)

Source: http://www.gcn.com/print/25_25/41673-1.html    (03)

//    (04)

*The amazing Wikis*    (05)

 From the CIO Council to the CIA, the lightweight collaboration 
platform is taking hold—but it’s not a no-brainer    (06)

By Joab Jackson, GCN Staff    (07)

Government Computer News - 08/21/06 issue    (08)

While monthly meetings of the Collaborative Expedition Workshop 
normally fill a pretty big room at the National Science 
Foundation’s Ballston, Va., headquarters, July’s attracted nearly 
double the usual attendance. It turned out folks from a wide 
swath of intelligence, defense and civilian agencies wanted to 
know how they could use an emerging form of online collaboration. 
The topic of the workshop? Wiki software.    (09)

The workshops are put on by the General Services Administration 
and the CIO Council to identify new, effective collaborative 
technologies. Wikis proved a natural fit. A wiki is a type of Web 
site that lets users edit content directly in their Web browser. 
Disarmingly simple, wikis can serve as a hub for groups with 
dispersed members to share information. They can also serve as an 
easy way to store information that others in an office can 
consult and update.    (010)

According to Mark Roseman, founder of commercial wiki provider 
CourseForum Technologies of Guelph, Ontario, “wikis work really 
well in situations where people are just trying to work together 
in a fashion that suits them better.”    (011)

Online collaboration is nothing new, of course. What makes wiki 
software so unique is that it does not require specialized 
software on the users’ part, nor does it require much training.    (012)

In late 2002, IT research firm IDC of Framingham, Mass., 
conducted a study that found e-mail was by far the most popular 
collaboration tool, used in more than 90 percent of the projects 
surveyed. People working together on projects simply exchanged 
notes and sent files as attachments rather than using dedicated 
collaborative software, such as Microsoft’s Groove or EMC Corp.’s 
eRoom. E-mail required no special software beyond what most 
people already had.    (013)

While it’s easy to use, the downside to relying on e-mail is that 
“all the value is kept in people’s private inboxes,” said Ross 
Mayfield, chief executive officer and founder of commercial wiki 
provider Socialtext of Palo Alto, Calif.    (014)

Like e-mail, wikis require no special software; only a Web 
browser. By using a wiki in addition to, or instead of, e-mail, 
files can be stored in a central location, with very little work 
or technical expertise. “With the way people use wikis, things 
stay transparent and impermanent. You can always update 
information any time with a single click,” Mayfield said.    (015)

Anyone with a browser can edit a wiki page. (Setting up a wiki is 
something else; see story, next page.) A wiki page looks 
identical to a regular Web page, except that somewhere is a 
button marked “Edit.” Click on that button and you get a 
plain-text version of that page, in which you can make changes. 
When you’re finished, just click on the Save button and your work 
gets added to that page.    (016)

Contrast this with something like IBM’s Lotus Notes or other 
commercial collaboration packages. In such a case, each user 
needs the Lotus software, which could prevent casual or 
cross-agency collaboration. “Plus the training requirement is 
huge,” Roseman said. “The nice thing with wikis is that you can 
structure the space the way you want, not the way the software 
wants you to.”    (017)

*Government use*    (018)

Like other grassroots technologies, wikis have quietly permeated 
the fabric of government IT.    (019)

Last year, when the Federal CIO Council’s Architecture and 
Infrastructure Committee set out to revise the Federal Enterprise 
Architecture Data Reference Model, it used two wikis, one public 
and one exclusive to participants. The wiki was provided by CIM 
Engineering Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., through an existing 
contract with GSA.    (020)

Hashing out a new DRM was an onerous task involving 130 
participants from around the country. Many of the individuals 
were strangers and the material was formidable.    (021)

The wiki format offered an easy way to post and cross-index 
documents, as well as archive e-mail discussions, said Michael 
Daconta, who was the technical lead for the group and is now vice 
president of enterprise data management for Oberon Associates 
Inc. of Manassas, Va. Although the wiki was not instrumental to 
the success of the group, it did streamline operations. The group 
was able to quickly post working-level documents for public 
viewing. And because it required little formal training, 
participants could quickly start contributing.    (022)

At the Collaborative Expedition Workshop, D. Calvin Andrus, the 
chief technology officer for the Central Intelligence Agency’s 
Center for Mission Innovation, said the CIA has recently begun 
using wikis to share information. At first, the CIA used wikis 
internally. It has about 12,000 pages scattered throughout its 
top-secret network, Andrus said. Increasingly, though, the agency 
is using the technology to collaborate with other intelligence 
offices, Andrus said.    (023)

Analysts from the CIA’s Office of Iraqi Analysis are devoting 
time to assembling what they know into a collection of wiki 
pages, collectively know as the Intellipedia. The wiki pages can 
then be made available to other intelligence agencies and the 
analysts themselves continue to update the pages.    (024)

The CIO Council’s Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice 
also relies on wiki software provided by CIM Engineering. In 
conjunction with other groups, the council sometimes holds 
conferences and helps guide a number of pilot projects. The wiki 
has been essential to facilitating work before, during and after 
the group’s workshops, said co-chairman Brand Niemann.    (025)

Before an event, the group uses a wiki to hash out details such 
as speaker schedules and discussion topics. During the 
conference, participants refer to the wiki for directions, 
dial-in numbers, schedules and posted presentations. Afterwards, 
the wiki serves as a record of the event and a document repository.    (026)

The community of practice had used various collaboration tools 
before settling on a wiki, Niemann said. They weren’t as easy for 
newcomers to use, which created a bottleneck, forcing Niemann and 
co-chair Susan Turnbull to handle all the shared material.    (027)

“Everything had to come to us, and we had to post everything,” 
Niemann said. “Now we distribute the workload. We tell people, 
‘If you are going to make a presentation, please post your file.’ ”    (028)

Leonard Dorfman, vice president of product marketing for 
commercial wiki provider eTouch Systems Corp. of Fremont, Calif., 
said that once they’re introduced to an enterprise, wikis usually 
proliferate. Once a technically minded group, say a staff of 
engineers, installs a wiki for a particular project, that wiki 
software is often adopted by other groups over time.    (029)

*Nature of collaboration*    (030)

Wikis are so straightforward that it’s difficult to assess the 
changes they could make to social collaboration overall. In many 
ways, a wiki doesn’t change the nature of collaboration, it just 
streamlines record-keeping. “It was certainly no silver bullet,” 
Daconta said of the DRM wiki. While it offered a quick way to 
post material, the wiki did not alter the process of developing 
the DRM itself.    (031)

A common aspect of collaborative workgroups is that many people 
offer some input, but there are usually a few people who serve up 
the lion’s share. Implicit in the wiki’s ease-of-use is the 
assumption that it lowers the barrier of participation, thereby 
fostering a more democratic environment. But when reflecting on 
the group dynamics of developing the DRM, Daconta found it 
similar to large group projects he had participated in before.    (032)

“The success of the wiki directly relates to the comfort level 
and the training of the group,” Daconta said. Although wikis are 
easy to use, some training is still required to handle details 
like markup. Turnbull periodically holds phone seminars on how to 
use the CIM wiki so participants in various government projects 
quickly get up to speed. So the technical barrier to online 
collaboration can be lowered through wikis, but not eliminated. 
“The problem is your non-techies will shy away from it,” Daconta 
said, noting that today’s wiki editing software is still primitive.    (033)

Others, however, see wikis portending great organizational 
change. Andrus is one who can see how wikis could dramatically 
change reporting routines for the CIA, which must collect and 
analyze data from around the world. He admits that the 
organization is now outgunned by Web users, at least when it 
comes to basic fact-gathering and reporting.    (034)

As an example, he points to a Wikipedia [www.wikipedia.com] entry 
on last summer’s terrorist bombings in London. Within 90 minutes 
of the bombing, a Wikipedia page was posted about the event and 
was updated almost continually in the days that followed. “There 
was no editor-in-chief. No one told anybody to do this. [People] 
took it upon themselves to make this entry. They were empowered,” 
Andrus said.    (035)

This approach is a powerful contrast to the CIA’s routine. The 
usual process of the CIA is to collect information, write a 
report, carefully edit the report to eliminate errors and push 
the copy through production. “That is a yesterday’s-news-tomorrow 
paradigm,” he said.    (036)

Wiki software points to a new model, Andrus noted: Instead of 
editing and then publishing material, the material is published 
first and edited later.    (037)

Andrus isn’t alone in advocating this approach. At last spring’s 
LinuxWorld Conference in Boston, Peter Thoeny, who manages the 
Twiki Wiki software, also expressed a similar sentiment. Managers 
usually first see wikis as chaotic, he noted. They want the 
content to be perfect before it’s posted. But overall, it is more 
efficient to post new material early and then revise it often. 
Thoeny noted that this is the approach used by embedded software 
maker Wind River Software, which has an internal corporate wiki 
that, with over 85,000 pages, is updated 22,000 times a month.    (038)

Using such an approach, Andrus said, “Once we get a critical 
mass, we can change the way we do intelligence forever.”    (039)

//    (040)

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