Lately I have been thinking about the things we forget. Think how Englebart invented everything we are trying to implement today. Sure it is easier, perhaps even possible. But perhaps because it hasn't been built yet, it's really hard to build upon the work that preceded us.
We laud blogs as a personal memory bank, but it is limited to our memory. And search to augmenent. I do think, despite obvious tool bias, that Wikipedia and more specialized and private wikis hold the chance of constructive recall. Wikipedia doesn't defeat Google, yet. But how we accrete knowledge today still sucks (time, at least).
So let me share an honest story about enterprise wiki use. We recently improved search in Socialtext by what I perceive as a 10x enhancement. I say perceived, because any search enhancement is not something you can purely measure, but is a function of user experience. Sure, I can say that it's friggin' fast and have metrics to back it up. But making it fast, expanding it's scope to include MS Office enhancements, or limiting it's scope by tag let's you discover what may be relevant. Relevance is is in the proverbial eye of the user.
The point is that good search combined with wicked fast page and editor load enables a different mode of wiki use. The easy way to create a wiki is messy. A repository (non-PC term being garbage dump).
Some repositories rely on structure to restrict our inclination to dump. Dumping is inherently human, we give brain dumps and want to as a function of sharing. We create waste and want the system to recycle. Any system is inherently powered by systems and isn't closed. We may automate to gain efficiencies, but unless it augments the system simply processes instead of augments.
But as designers, no matter how much we believe in the perfection of our expertise or what we may create, it still sucks. And the perfection of how users use is several orders below what we intend.
Still we structure. Bind users with rules we think is best. If they obey, the world is in order. At least our small world, perfect world, Such is the folly of thinking you are a designer. Ego is easy. Knowing that the people who really can grant you ego are the people you don't intimately know is knowing when you have been psyched out or when you are affirmed. When you apply structure you are governing others. A power to wield graciously. Something easy to put aside for sake of progress, but that's just your short term progress.
I am a pompous ass, but stay with me...
So, we are building a wiki. We can slap on structure and call it a panacea. If you think past one use, you may believe it, and buy into it. But life, and work, isn't static -- and it is diverse.
So you are building a wiki. You can certainly learn great practices to keep a tidy garden as it seeks to grow around you. But you can't boil it all down to forms and structure and get real contribution. People already have that, and they don't use it ( they use email instead). Embracing mess offers a third way to enable contribution and delivery value.
This is a round-about way to say that the dumping ground use case for wikis is not just accessible, but valid. Good search enables people to get past form applications, even get pass formality of contribution practices. It let's us simply contribute, knowing that we can recall later. Others can recall, edit it, link or tag it, and it will pop back to top of mind if it is important. We can forget when immediately processing what crosses our desk when we have confidence in rapid recall.
Today we don't have good enough search, at least to us. It relies on people being smart in how they discover. But we can acknowledge what we have built and where it needs to go. Openly, you might even help us take it in a better direction.