Wiki Brainstorming and Problems With Wiki

MSc Project submitted September 2004


My Masters project started out as a piece about wiki as a novel means of on-line brainstorming but as it developed the emphasis shifted and it became instead a study of the interesting sociological aspects of wiki as a form of asynchronous on-line collaboration and knowledge management. The results and discussion sections of the report go into detail on the social factors that influence the success or failure of a wiki.

The report gathered and discussed existing thoughts and ideas on the subject from known experts as well as providing further unique insight into this fascinating and potentially very powerful means of collaboration.

This was one of the earliest academic publications on the subject of wiki and it has since been very well received by the online community, generating enough interest to ensure a steady stream of email enquiries and discussions. A friendly person from Google even told me they used it to justify moving some of their organisations at Google away from Wiki use.

As a means of collaboration and knowledge management the wiki still has enormous potential, but this study highlights a number of sociological factors that are crucial in the dynamics of a successful wiki. The project includes discussion of wiki on the Internet as well as some discussion of how the dynamics of wiki might be affected on an Intranet or other more controlled environments.

What is a Wiki?

For anyone unfamiliar with Wiki, they essentially represent openly editable web pages. A good example is the popular on-line collaborative encyclopaedia wikipedia, where anyone can amend definitions and entries. A database of all changes is maintained so that the page can be rolled back at any time if mistakes or vandalism occur and monitoring and maintaining the content is the responsibility of the community as a whole. In a successful wiki the data will build up in an evolutionary fashion, where only the strongest content survives. For a fuller description you can read the 'introduction to wiki' I created during my project.

The Official Abstract

As organisations increasingly rely on geographically dispersed workforces there is an emerging need to collaborate on projects that span distributed teams and different time frames. This includes a need for collaboration in the form of brainstorming. Wiki may provide a powerful medium for asynchronous distributed collaboration in such situations.

A design for evaluating the use of wiki as a shared workspace for asynchronous distributed brainstorming is described. Implementation of this design was unsuccessful and it was considered that failure may be the result of fundamental problems with wiki as a collaborative technology. A revised design is presented for the evaluation of problems with wiki-based collaboration and the factors affecting such collaboration, based on hypotheses derived in part from traditional brainstorming research.

A natural structure of factors affecting wiki-based collaboration emerged from the results which are discussed. Study conclusion presents 'The Wiki Cycle', a diagrammatic representation that highlights the process factors that affect the success or failure of wiki-based collaboration and which shows the interaction of these factors by way of a series of feedback cycles.

This provides a framework for future work by making explicit some of the process factors and dynamics that affect wiki-based collaboration.

Download the Report

The report in pdf format can be found here:

Wiki Brainstorming and Problems with Wiki

The University of York site also offers a download on the Official Project Homepage