Kaplak and The Wiki Way

This video is a few words about our online method and work ethos, which is greatly inspired by what has been coined “the wiki way”, by our friends at About Us, among others (and yet others).

I’ve previously written about Kaplak’s multi-platform strategy and compared our business aspirations to the world of grafitti painting in our local neighbourhood. We want to create a company, which is capable of inviting “tags” and “shouts”, i.e. inputs from outside our company, so that we may, in the process and with time, learn how to do a great “piece”, so to speak. Inviting outside input is more difficult, than one would imagine, as everything in the business world as is, is built around keeping closed circles closed and creating stiff hierarchies, which are detrimental to the very kind of open, global process, we mean to help kick off and participate in. By all means, we want to steer clear of the corporate thickness, which quickly creeps into a company and prevents it from doing bold things.

Thus, we mean the “wiki way” in broader terms, than for just the work of building a wiki. We consider it a way of doing business and a mindset, which we need, in order to maintain a broad online presence over a number of different platforms and web architectures, without being overencumbered by the sheer vastness of what we’re doing – “making the world’s ends meet”, as we say, i.e. making financially viable connections between niche products and global niche markets.

Building and writing a blog sometimes can be like working against the clock. Posts are time-stamped and articles read and digested in the order they are published.

Not so with wikis. They evolve slowly over time, as additions to the wiki accumulate, from vastly different and otherwise territorially and contextually dispersed contributors. A wiki is built from time to time, when there’s something to add. A page can be an inactive dead end for months or even years, and it can see a sudden outburst of activity from one moment to the other, when it finds it’s use in a new context.

We understand and implement our online strategy much in this way. We use web tools and services, when they are useful to us, and we try to add bits and pieces to our network, when we need to. We don’t write blog posts every day, just for the sake of it or just to draw in traffic. However, we do work systematically to find explicit ways to add information or new contacts to our network. Precisely where the activity occurs – whether it happens on Twitter or Friendfeed, or somewhere else – is less important, as long as our pieces and nitbits are closely interlinked, and as long as we can feed stuff from one platform to another. The last thing is a high priority, which is why RSS and widgets are important. But what is even more important, is that in most contexts, not just in our wiki, we invite replies, comments, reactions, input, if just for the rare case, when someone in some unexpected context stumbles upon one of the bits and pieces, which help he or she activate that page and connect with us.

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20 comments ↓

#1 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.06.08 at 11:38 pm

Great opportunity for testing our new waterproof Sanyo Xacti camcorder… :-)

#2 LauraHale on 07.07.08 at 1:15 am

Really enjoyed this. As some one who does a lot of wiki stuff, I can relate on the blogging thing. It feels like something that you need to do immediately where you should not go more than a few days with out updating your blog. Wikis have much less pressure, or a different kind of pressure to get the right people involved with the project.

#3 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.07.08 at 9:15 am

Great input, Laura! Thanks! I definitely agree – I highly prefer the pace of a wiki over the urgency of blog writing.

The wiki in our system will be where the real power is. There's nothing like a wiki taking off. It's incredibly difficult to do and can be so much more demanding to organize than a blog, but the rewards are heaps greater and the work done of a much more lasting value.

While we do need, I think, the blog in order to engage in conversations and open up the space (I've previously found this difficult to do with a wiki), we try to do it in the relaxed “wiki” way. No reason to write yet another “Twitter vs. Friendfeed” post ;-) Who really cares?

#4 LauraHale on 07.07.08 at 1:53 pm

Fan History is trying to get venture capital and is in a similar position. We want to do other things related to that but the wiki is core to our business plan. The wiki has the potential, especially as our traffic increases, to change potential power dynamics in other spaces because of the information that people can gather. We've already seen this start to happen.

Your post mentioned lack of pressure to pump out content quickly. I don't know that I agree with that but it might come down to what your wiki's topic is. Fan History is more entertainment driven, with components of web 2.0 news and fandom news. There is, to a certain extent, a rush to be timely but the pressure is less because while it might be important to get an article up about LiveJournal elections, a policy change at Quizilla which might cause parts of fandom to desert it or the Open Source Boob project, we can quickly create a stub, adding minimal information and then capture that audience who will hopefully help contribute to that information. Or we can give ourselves time to go back and edit that content when we are less pressed for time or have fewer commitments we need to worry about. That, for me, is the real advantage.

Have you looked at some extensions for MediaWiki like the ability to integrate a blogging component and socialprofiles into your wiki? Or looked at WetPaint's platform which allows commenting on articles? There are a few wikis that seem to use those as a way to foster user engagement. Halopedia takes this to an extreme of sorts with out necessarily losing the wiki way. (But that might come down to defining what the wiki way means for you. For us at Fan History, that tends to be eschewing the idea of community in order to insure that we can minimize the perception of bias that fostering a community can create.)

Twitter vs. Friendfeed probably matters most if your target audience is in that space. :) So seeing something more relevant to my activities is a YAY! :)

#5 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.07.08 at 10:12 pm

Interesting project! Looking forward to learning more! – I did a Google on you earlier because you said you've worked with wikis, and I read a little about your wiki :-) – We are in similar positions I think, as both FanHistory and Kaplak have grown out of other, non-commercial projects, and are now looking at more sustained opportunities.

One particular purpose of what we're doing with our wiki is to develop language. We need common ways to describe what's happening online, in order to organize what we're doing and communicate effectively about it. I think you just coined a new concept, which I'll reach out and dub “the stub advantage”, which is indeed a wonderful thing :-)

Didn't look too seriously for social networking components for the wiki, as we'll put the social networking elsewhere in K's network and not primarily in the wiki. I hate the disorderly fashion discussion of wiki pages can turn into. Great for quick edits and brief inputs, but really bad for threaded, meaningful discussion. Thanks for the tips, though, – will look into it.

We are exploring extensions, though. Jesper Lund who recently joined Kaplak (see previous posting) is working as we speak on an extension which integrates our del.icio.us bookmarks with the wiki, because it is a high priority for us to get our data collecting and information building up to speed and very well connected. It's a work in progress. But you'll know how that is :-)

#6 LauraHale on 07.07.08 at 10:33 pm

Fan History right now really needs some funding to hire a few people, improve our back end, get some programming work done and improve our marketing. You can only push the base script so far before you run into the scalability issues and the lack of content can be a major hindrance to growth.

How tied is Kaplak with academic and academic theory regarding community organization and function? There is a lot of language created and in use already. I know this has become an issue with Fan History in that we've got a number of potential audiences who don't speak the same language and don't really have a need to speak the same language. (Acafen, Quizilla users, members of the entertainment industry all create their own language based on need and interest.)

Stub advantage. :) But very important. I know for Fan History that we've found say using a template like musicians template as a base for articles means that new users are less intimidated when they see an article like Oasis. It ups our participation level. I've chatted with a lot of people who see wiki entries on Wikipedia, see the articles as rather complete and don't feel they can make meaningful contributions with out some structure where they can easily plug in.

Sounds like a nifty extension. :) And I could see the advantages to having that integrated in.

#7 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.08.08 at 12:35 am

We're not very much tied up with anything, except I do have an academic background and try to be well-versed in goings-on online, in theory as well as practice. The problem is, our investors do not – and nor do 95% of our customers, of which perhaps 50% is not yet very active participants in online activities. So we have a gap, and a lot of our efforts will consist in what one may call “educating” our market, not least our capital market :-) – Reflected a bit on this in my recent talk with Andrew Wise.

I agree, you can't scale anything without capital. As far as K is concerned, I'm not worried about getting capital, but more focused on 1) getting the right kind of capital at the right price :-) and 2) getting our investors to understand our way of doing and building our business. Because if they don't, they'll unwaringly run us into the ground before we know it, with too short-sighted demands. Right now, we have good first friendly contacts and a good network of advisors, and we are busy building customer relationships. We'll have decent income streams before we get around to scaling things too much. We're very inspired by Steve Blank – emphasizing customer input very early in our process.

My greatest quibble with Wikipedia is that pages have become much too complex, with too many templates and unnecessary code-gibberish, which prevents most from adding to it. I hate when you create a page there, only to be met by a template inserted by someone which says it needs “documenting” it's “notability”. That wasn't the way Wikipedia was built 4 years ago – when the motto was to “be bold”…

We ought to continue this on IM sometime – do you use Google Talk or something else besides Twitter?

#8 LauraHale on 07.08.08 at 1:03 am

Ah. The investment language gap in terms of understanding a wiki and the power of a wiki. I could see why the need to have shared terminology would be important there. And having shared language and teaching a customer base understand what a wiki is and how to use it. (The second one is more of a problem I can understand. ) I have only started to put together a business plan and think about who to contact so not familiar with the business end of problems. If you've got a good network and good contacts, that can be half the battle.

Wikipedia has a lot of issues. Some of those templates are so complex that I find them scary to edit. The notability requirement, the people sitting on articles to revert anything that doesn't match with their idea of what should be in the article are among some of the problems. Sadly, Wikipedia's visibility is what a lot of people think of when you talk about wikis and getting people from other wikis to be involved in the larger wiki community can be a pain in the arse.

I installed GTalk where I'm laura @ fanhistory . com. I'm on AIM at h2oequalswater, MSN at lhale@niu.edu, and Y!M at bouncingpurplepopple.

#9 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.08.08 at 1:30 pm

Added you to my GTalk now :-) Just a quick one re : “teaching a customer base understand what a wiki is and how to use it” :

Nobody will use a wiki (or any other piece of software, for that matter) if they cannot perceive it's usefulness. I've been there, fighting that endless battle :-) One of the problems of wiki adoption is that users fail to see the great advantage of wikis – until after they've dived in. In other words, there has to be a great, real pain, which the software/tool/product can help solve.

So what you need to do is make clear (at a conscious level) what the problem/pain is, and how the tool works to solve it. In our case, a wiki is a tool on our way to cracking the niche distribution problem, we're in the process of identifying. We don't need a lot of external edits, really. We're happy if we can attract people to the wiki, who know or feel the pain we describe, and actively search for information online about it (those are the people primarily we'll reach with our “1st phase” online efforts).

Based on my previous experience, I will be thrilled if we reach our goal of having 5% edits being made by users otherwise unaffiliated with Kaplak at the end of the year. That will be awesome. And even if we don't, I can live with it. It's heavy work building up a thunderstorm ;-)

So in my experience the task is not so much about teaching something, as it is to identify the underlying problem or challenge your work helps solve or remedy (by talking to/interviewing users & potential customers), then let it sink into the way you work and present your project, and the problem as well as your solution/remedy will be more apparent to new users/customers.

#10 electricbob on 07.08.08 at 3:27 pm

The Wiki Way is the name of Ward Cunningham's book on the software he wrote (you can find the book on Amazon for example).

I read the book over a vacation, brought the software into our enterprise architecture space, and that was that.

Wiki at its most basic is a quick, easy way to collaboratively stand up a web site. At its deepest, its an on-line, global collaboration toolkit. It can be used to build web sites, and it can be used to build living documents, as well as constructing a document that you'll want to cut over to PDF for something more akin to publishing. And you can build presentations in some wikis as well.

The wiki languages are also special because they're typically easy to learn, at least for the most common things to do. That makes it especially appropriate for collaborating with more business-y folk.

It is a cultural and social challenge to use wiki well. Its important to stress to teams that its THEIR wiki, its THEIR content. THEY have responsibility. As a manager, its my place to force occasional restructurings and reviews – one problem with wiki-built web sites is that navigation is a mess; the structure tends to build hap-hazardly and at the whims of each person, making one of the two ways to navigate, hierarchy, almost useless, and making the second, search, only occasionally useful.

I wonder if adding a tagging system to wiki would help.

Thanks and have fun! – Bob

#11 electricbob on 07.08.08 at 3:29 pm

One simple way to show the value of wiki to a non-technical audience is to use it – set up an LCD projector and project the wiki as its being edited live in the meeting, occasionally swapping back to the real view to see what they've created. Emphasize THEY, that will help sell the idea to them.

Business people see the value of immediate capture of meeting minutes and ideas quickly. And. paraphrasing Eddie Murphy, once you have a wiki you'll never go back.

#12 LauraHale on 07.08.08 at 4:10 pm

Creating and explaining the usefulness issue is one thing that we're pretty good with. (And it is at the heart of our business plan.) We've highlighted that and when I talk to people who might possibly contribute, I point out all the ways that by contributing, they can be served. If you're a fan fiction writer, there are ideas on how to promote yourself in the wiki. It can help to expand your audience, centralize your information and make it more searchable and provide a resource to inform readers who want to know the status of your work who might do that by googling you. If you are a dealer at conventions, use the dealer template to create an article about yourself. For dealers, it puts all the information in a central location, it is easy to update, requires almost no overhead and improves on the existing resource of convention pages which frequently do not contain updated lists of dealers. I could probably think of another four or five examples of usefuless. For us, the usefulness aspect becomes really obvious really fast. (And I love to discuss that.) It is one of the reasons why I really feel like we have a lot of potential.

It is more of a learning how to wiki code and having people to support new contributors with out offending them. Going back to Wikipedia, people can get really frustrated. They're bold, they edit and then some one comes in and basically destroys their contributions. It makes them less inclined to participate again. They might still use the wiki as a tool because they can't get that information elsewhere but they might not be willing to contribute.

And added to this, fandom, like pretty much any other type of social grouping, has a whole slew of politics going on, competing groups, factions, vested interests in how things are portrayed. This can be a barrier, a bigger barrier, than the perceived usefulness. “Yes, this is a great resource BUT I don't agree with the politics of the person who runs it. I won't contribute.” OR “I don't like the fact that anyone can edit it. I'd like the tool better if it had better controls and only a limited number of people could contribute to it.”

I think that we both probably have similar issues but because our audience have different concerns and different needs that our barriers to getting people to edit are very different. (But that we both have the same end goal of getting greater user contributions.)

#13 LauraHale on 07.08.08 at 4:26 pm

There are a number of extensions for MediaWiki that allow tagging. The usefulness of tagging in a wiki probably comes down to the purpose of the wiki, the audience for the content, and how married contributors are to the category system.

#14 electricbob on 07.08.08 at 4:30 pm

Thanks – I'm supposed to be co-managing our MediaWiki installation soon and I'm gathering a list of plugins I want to install.

I want to add this one to make search more effective – I want to provide another dimension to the team for identifying interesting stuff.

Have you used any of the extensions? Any recommendation?

Thanks and have fun! – Bob

#15 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.08.08 at 9:13 pm

I recognize what you say re: ownership and responsibility, which is why a wiki without a free license is a nogo, IMHO. You don't ask anyone to add their work and then “retain all rights”. Yet I've seen examples of this.

I'd also like to emphasize that the “they” will never be a collaboratively powerful “they” using the wiki to it's full advantage without leadership and vision. This typically means someone putting in hours to make sure the wiki stays on track, at least to begin with. But of course, be careful not to lead the way too far ahead for anyone to follow, and not to do everything “for the users”, as otherwise they will never learn.

#16 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.08.08 at 9:14 pm

Slowly getting better acquainted with your project and it's potential… Great work!

#17 LauraHale on 07.08.08 at 10:03 pm

Thanks. We really try. :)

#18 MortenBlaabjerg on 07.09.08 at 7:27 am

Have not tried any search extensions specifically for MediaWiki – but did you see my related post on contextualized search?

#19 Fan History » Blog Archive » Power in fandom on 07.09.08 at 6:43 pm

[...] had a conversation yesterday with some one doing something similar to what I’m doing. One of the things we talked about was the new [...]

#20 electricbob on 07.09.08 at 3:42 pm

Perhaps one way to help clients that have their early content “destroyed” is to urge them to edit other existing pages – I do this at the office as a way to bring the concept of a shared context and environment home to people. That seems to work most of the time.

When dealing with politics (I worked for a really large multinational bank for 10 years, where I stood up our first wiki), I like to urge people to do a “point – counterpoint” style of page. Sometimes works….

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