Thursday, March 01, 2007

Interview with Michael Pilling on wikis

Michael Pilling is the wiki specialist for Wikinomics. We work together on the Wikinomics site, which is a wiki platform that is facilitating the collaborative creation of the last chapter of the book, called "The Wiki Playbook".

Michael feels that wikis will not appeal to pop culture. Will wikis remain the province of professional and corporate collaborations, or will average people feel an altruistic urge, and seek to work as a team, relatively anonymously, on egoless projects?

Here is our email interview.

> VASPERS: Are wikis media?

MICHAEL PILLING: A funny question, because it makes you wonder what mediawiki is supposed to mean.

Honestly, I would say no. They are events, rather than objects, a party that you only ever view as a series of still photos, but a party nonetheless.

As someone who manages a public wiki, I do not think of myself as a publisher, but rather as a meeting facilitator. Publication implies a premeditated action -- and that is not what really happens in a wiki.

> VASPERS: Is there a wiki or wiki application that is close to being another MySpace, YouTube, or Digg, in terms of viral velocity, mass awareness, and pervasive public usage?

MICHAEL PILLING: Apart from Wikipedia, which is in a class by itself, I'm not aware of any other wikis that are a "cultural phenomenon".

Wikis and similar technologies are still in their infancy - - and it is also not a tool that embraces or is easily embraced by pop culture.

In its pure form, wiki is an environment where you are basically stripped of your personality, your socio-econmic status, and your personal space. All wiki wants is your brainpower.

> VASPERS: What is the future of wiki, how are wikis evolving?

MICHAEL PILLING: I think that "Wiki" might possibly disappear by the merit of being ubiquitous.

Microsoft and Google are moving heavily into online collaboration, and they have to call it something else besides wiki - because wikis are heavily associated with open source software, and honesty the open source software is far better than anything that the has been developed as proprietary code - so they will brand it as simply "collaboration."

The essence of wiki is a document posted on the web with widely shared read-write access.

It's not a technology really, its just a permission setting.

Wiki as a technology just proved a point that there was some use to such a permission setting. The most sophisticated wiki software in the future will probably track changes to individual characters in real time and will be a standard feature in all word processors. That's just geeky stuff though.

The real question is how many command and control systems in our society will be replaced by smart mobs - we don't need any improvements to the technology for that to happen, just a wee little paradigm shift.

> VASPERS: What wiki mashups exist, or could exist?

MICHAEL PILLING: There are more varieties of wiki out there than you will ever want to know. As software, its just not that complicated. Wiki can be integrated into pretty much anything.

> VASPERS: What is the greatest obstacle to wiki adaptation by business?

MICHAEL PILLING: Do you really want to publish this?

If I was a manager who had suspicions that most of the people who worked for me were smarter than I was, I would make it a number one priority to stamp out anything remotely like a wiki in my workplace.

If I was a CEO that was paid 100x the salary of a regular employee, I would stick to blogging.

If I was a majority shareholder, on the other hand - I think I would be very excited about reducing meeting times by 50%, employee training costs by 50%, and putting a firewall between your company and the kind of colossal screwups that can happen when the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

Wikis are the great levelers of intelligence - you can't hide behind jargon or buzzwords or rhetoric - to make a lasting edit in a public wiki you have to add knowlege. A wiki makes it easier for groups to make good decisions precisely because it makes it hard for individuals to control information.

Wikis for business will start as peer collaboration tools first, and then the wiki way will tend to encourage a little more free information sharing within the larger company.

> VASPERS: Are wikis good platforms for multimedia, i.e., are wikis incorporating podcasts, video, photo galleries, or are they generally more conducive to text?

MICHAEL PILLING: If you mean are there Wiki CMS systems that you can plug audio and video into, yes many.

If you mean can we apply the wiki way to multimedia - yes it is being done. Right now, in Second Life you can "wiki" 3-D objects. However, in highly creative applications, there is less immediate utility because mass collaboration is much more likely to be simply mass chaos if you aren't trying to name all the Presidents of the US, or some other activity where there is one more or less right answer.

> VASPERS: What is your vision for your Open Politics wiki?

MICHAEL PILLING: It has been to date, an interesting and worthy experiment. The object is fairly simple: mass collaboration on public policy, enabling smart mobs to perform the legislative function of government. It's a harder collaboration problem than writing encyclopedias, but still quite doable. (As opposed to writing novels -- which is a harder one.)

> VASPERS: How could my client, who just started an institute on ethical government leadership, use a wiki?

MICHAEL PILLING: Most government bureaucracies could make excellent use of wikis both internally as a management tool, and as an interface for public consultation. We should talk more about his specific requirements.

> VASPERS: Do you see the relatively anonymous altruism and participatory teamwork of wikis as usurping the myopic narcissism of blogging?

MICHAEL PILLING: I think that people will probably continue blogging at least as much as they are now, but in the future they will wiki much more at work.

Blogs are where we can brainstorm and play with new ideas that can then be hammered into shape by others in a wiki. It's the emailing and discussion boards and especially the list-serves that need to be put out of their misery.



Michael said...

Thanks Steven, it has been great working with you in One of the challenges of wiki of course is getting people to share their knowledge freely, and i thought you had some very interesting perspectives on how this applies in the business and IT community.
I would invite people to add their views on this: Is Knowledge a Magic Penny? There have been myriad examples of how folks are willing to share knowledge in forums and bulletin boards - it will be interesting to see if the same enthusiasm for giving knowledge away holds in the wiki environment.

Anonymous said...

"How could my client, who just started an institute on ethical government leadership, use a wiki?"

For one thing, they could use it to assemble all the resources on what other ethical government leaders are doing and saying. For instance the resilient city approach to urban development or the greening of government operations. Some awesome resources on this were assembled by Civic Efficiency Group, which made good use of in its lobbying of the federal government and international agencies, even proposing a first draft of a major international agreement that had significant influence on the final outcome.

The vision of has come from its users, not those who started it necessarily. That's the most important lesson of wiki: there must be a way for the lunatics to take over the asylum and rid themselves of the founder, or it can never reach its potential.

Anonymous said...

"it will be interesting to see if the same enthusiasm for giving knowledge away holds in the wiki environment." ??!!?!?!?!

What is Wikipedia?!?!?!?!?

There are dozens of other good ones.

If people know that they're dealing with an ethical process and service that won't just steal and cut off their access to data or to make changes, they contribute. It's the unethical or overly specialized wikis that tend to have problems getting going.