Case in point: A contract electronics manufacturer allows engineers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, plus suppliers, plus customers, to share on-line workspace. It’s that last word, “workspace” that merits even more digerati buzz.
|by Nancy Cohen|
Michael Schrage, a co-director of the MIT Media Lab, who focuses on shared
workspaces as absolute precursors for innovation. If you truly want to
collaborate, you need shared space. The shared space, he adds, becomes the
medium through which people work and the fundamental source of good ideas.
Schrage often references his Napkin Example. Two people are at a lunch counter. One writes something on a napkin to explain his idea. The other alters the sketch on the napkin to relay that second person’s idea. If a waiter were to come and remove the paper, the conversation would go away.
Schrage argues that you are no longer talking to that other person: You are talking with the other person through a reference point. This reference point becomes the dynamic.
For the hordes of people all over the world who use Wiki, they are apt to argue that Wiki is the best ‘shared space’ going. Wiki is an Open Source tool for collaboration. With Wiki, everyone has edit access to everything. Wiki allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself. “Open editing" means that everyday users create and edit any page in a web site. Anyone can go into a document, make additions, amendments, deletions, edits, and reformats….Scary!
Doesn’t that lead to chaos—or, even worse, garbage? There is a counter-response for those who think Wiki might be an information disaster waiting to happen. Wiki users say, What disaster?
They point out that Wiki has a Darwinian safety valve that makes any Wiki project look less like A Night at the Opera and more like A Day at the Labs. That safety lies in the fact that changes get stored in a log. Another user can come in and review the log and can instantly undo a change deemed as unfit. The argument goes that if ugly graffiti can be corrected in seconds, the third-rate graffiti artist is not motivated to spend hours crafting a badly executed scrawl, only to see it nullified over and over again. The content that survives is the content that everyone has agreed is best.
What's more, instead of having a scenario where one informs an editor of a desired change, and await a series of exchanges, Wiki lets the change-maker do it alone, immediately. This carries with it not only efficiencies but laudable economics, since it pares transaction costs. With Wiki, Brooks’ Law is turned on its ear. The more people looking at something, rather than inviting mischief and errors, leads to a better chance of finding things for improvement.
While it can be argued that only a limited number of core developers lead the way in software design even in collaborative Open Source, Wiki and its clones are proving that a large network of contributors can produce high-quality information in a collaborative environment. “What I find is that people who use Wiki absolutely love it,” says Joseph Cothrel, Vice President of Research at Participate.com.
Not everyone finds it lovable, however (see Desmond Moleski’s commentary). Nor is it something you immediately know what to do with. As the declaration Why Wiki Works explains, “Wiki is an intelligence test of sorts to be able to edit a Wiki page. It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t appeal to the TV-watchers. If it doesn’t appeal, they don’t participate, which leaves those of us who read and write to get on with rational discourse.”