What is the wiki for? The wiki is a place to surface information for customers. But it’s different from the knowledge base or the typical white paper. It’s a place where people who are working with the products can tune that information. In that sense the wiki provides an opportunity for folks to take their learnings, stand up on a platform, and spread it out to as many people as possible. With the wiki becoming more searchable it becomes easy for someone who has encountered a problem to expand the breadth and depth of the information discoverable in marketing material or white papers on technical site or blogs from the product teams. Customers will have greater access to information from people who have solved problems similar to theirs.
Who is it for? I’ve answered that a bit but let’s delve a little more directly. It’s for multiple audiences. First, it’s for anyone who is trying to find information to help solve a problem. Second as a forum for people to share their learnings with a broad audience. The info may be general in nature or very problem-specific. A third audience is the product teams at MS itself. They can see how customers are using their products.
Talk about the wiki vs. blogs and forums. A great advantage of the wiki is reach. If I write something on my blog it reaches maybe a few thousand people. On the wiki it has the potential for a much greater reach.
You work on the TechNet Wiki’s governing council. What is that? It’s been interesting to be involved in the evolution of the wiki. Initially from a set of concepts to create a Microsoft property in essence but to then open it up to the community to contribute. We’ve seen internal struggles at Microsoft to vet and control the information. So the council evolved to bring in an equal mix of MS and community people to sort out how this new venture really works. Is the wiki a Microsoft venture, a community venture, or a hybrid? The reality is it’s a hybrid, somewhere in the middle, and nobody really yet knows where it’s going to fit. There are powers (as in any large organization ) to control it more, yet there’s also pressure to relax controls and to make it more flexible and responsive to the needs of the community rather than to someone’s preconceived needs of the community.
So the council debates exactly these points. How does the wiki respond to the product group need to be more in control of the information that has an MS brand behind it, and to members of the public who don’t want to be overly concerned about filtering to espouse some company message? We negotiate and try to educate folks about the value to MS of having a property that really is more controlled by the community.
What’s an example of a dispute the council has resolved? Some people have contributed articles that were very good, very technical, but really didn’t directly interact with MS products. So from the internal MS perspective there was pressure to remove the article since it didn’t contribute to the MS community. But the council felt that people who worked with MS products might also work with this third-party product. So we asked these authors if there were interoperability issues that could tie their article to MS products. In one case the author removed the article but in the others the authors made extensions, not reductions, to their articles and kept them.
Can the council scale? The council as a policy board needs to be small to be efficient. The council has extended itself through another body, the Wiki Advisory Board, which is made up almost exclusively of active customers and contributors on the wiki. It has more members than the council. The Advisory Board helps deal with some of the management and moderation issues. The council is envisioned to be more of a policy-making board.
You’re a respected SQL Server MVP. What do you tell your colleagues about the wiki’s benefits? I think there are great benefits for anyone, whether an MVP, a consultant, or customer. If you’re an MVP you want to spread your information out to large groups. It’s a venue where you can write and be seen. There are two names that are on every article: the original author and the person who made the last edits. If you’re the original author, even as the article evolves and others contribute to it, your name will still be associated with it. Even if you have a blog, you can extend your reach with the wiki. Maybe you’re thinking about a topic for your blog. You’ve got 70% of the info. Put it on the wiki and ask others to help you make it better.
What does success look like for the wiki? I think it’s already successful in several ways. Some products are well represented and the articles surface high in search results. As it evolves, we’ll see more linking from more blogs and other sources. I think the wiki has incredible potential. I’m very optimistic. There are issues of concern, of course, and the council is trying to work through them. This is the first major, large-scale experiment that Microsoft as a corporation has engaged in where they’re putting their brand out and letting the community control what the content is. That feels risky to some product groups. They’re uncertain. They want to be in tighter control of the messages.
From the community perspective, we think it’s a phenomenal joint venture. We have to educate those who don’t have that community experience to give it a chance and see what it can do for them. I think that getting the community involved in helping to evolve the knowledge base of MS products is going to make life easier for most product groups. Initially it doesn’t seem that way to them but I think in time it will.
Do you have any comments for product groups about the wiki? I can imagine what some of them are thinking. “We write to MSDN, KB, white papers, and now we have one more place we have to write stuff to?” They haven’t figured out how to fit it in. They’ll find out it really isn’t overly complex to fit it in, and as customers help evolve it, the pressure on them to continually research and write about every problem that comes up will be reduced. They will be able to leverage the world community’s experience.