And it's critical to think through the information organization that your wiki will use before you deploy it, Villareal advises: Everyone must be on the same page in developing the criteria used to organize information. But he says that step is often neglected in a wiki's deployment.
Wikis aren't secure
Even where IT uses wikis wisely, there is an underlying risk to having project information stored on wikis, says Data Portability's Brim-DeDorest: "It is often too easy to register and say that you are anyone. It typically has a very low barrier to entry." So wikis are not appropriate for editing sensitive documents.
Wikis don't share data well
Wikis' major technology weakness are their substandard ability to import or export data from and to external data sources. But Data Portability's Brim-DeForest says that gap will be fixed. "We are building a data portability stack, so an application developer can help to build documents to support, control, share, and remix data across all of their social networks rather than having it in silos that are difficult to export," he says.
Already, some wikis that have taken the first steps to support information interchange, Brim-DeForest notes, such as Confluence, which lets users import RSS feeds.
Why you should still use wikis despite their issues
Although wikis are not perfect, they do have powerful benefits. Foremost is the fact that documents are edited in a very visible way, which adds accountability, says Brim-DeForest: "Members of a team have to justify the changes because everybody can see it."
Wikis' inherent version control means you never have to worry about losing a document again or fret two weeks into a project that you no longer have a version written at the beginning of the month that you've now decided is better than what the group developed later.
By storing documents in the network, you never have to worry whether or not someone is in or out of the office to be able to access their documents.
The use of wikis can also save time by letting IT (or other groups) and its clients share documents for collaborative editing and quicker approval. This advantage is particularly obvious at teams of 30 people or more, Villareal notes, especially because no distribution lists are required and there aren't complex e-mail threads to navigate.
A technical advantage of wikis over other document management tools is that there are plenty of good open source versions available at little or no cost. Plus, such wikis are usually extensible, so you can customize them to your needs. Yet you don't need an expert administrator or extra hardware resources. "We have 10 to 12 wikis running on a virtual machine with 256MB RAM and a 10GB hard disk. It was installed in 2006 and is still working," says Globant's Villareal. By comparison, a SharePoint portal requires Microsoft SQL Database and a database administrator, he notes. (Globant has 900 employees, of which 600 are engineers and about 350 are active wiki users.)
What you should look for in a wiki
There are lots of wikis available, thanks to the open source basis that makes it easy for companies large and small to provide them. Whatever wiki fits your needs, Villareal recommends that you be sure it supports PHP-based add -ons, the most common type in use.
He also recommends that your wiki be able to use LDAP for authorization and authentication, rather than making you manage permissions inside the wiki itself.
But as is often the case with technology, how well you use the technology is at least as key as the technology itself. "The success of wikis in a project depends on how dedicated the participants are in using the wiki and checking in regularly," says Erik Knepfler, president of HaveAByte.com, a hosted application provider for small to medium-size businesses. He uses wikis all the time.
Knepfler says users have to check in every day or use a wiki with an RSS feed to alert you when changes are made. The wiki itself will not work miracles and make a failing project successful.