Building a Healthy Wiki

A successful wiki is a site to behold. It is a living, breathing repository of knowledge that is tended to and expanded by its users. Many wikis will never see that fate, instead living out their lives long on potential but short on success. The largest culprits for this fate are often the planners themselves, having gotten caught up in the hype and not touching down to earth before the launch.

A wiki, like any other user supported application, seeks to obtain a “critical mass” in order to be a successful collaboration. That critical mass is a balance between what information users get out of visiting it, and what they are willing to leave behind.

Here are some of the guidelines for getting beyond the buzzword and into the productivity.

Focused Subject Matter

A wiki needs to be about something.  Simply instituting a wiki for “our office” or some other generalized idea that lacks a specific function is not going to be successful.  Without a specific purpose a wiki is just a buzzword.  Like all Web 2.0 material a wiki is an application, not a website.  It is in effect a computer program that allows people to come together and easily create a repository of knowledge about a subject.

If there is no specific purpose for that application to work on, there will be little reason to use it and big, fancy blank canvas will result. Starting out with completely blank canvases is not good.  They offer the new visitor that they are seeking to capture little to pique their curiosity or inspire their contributions

Healthy User Base

A core of willing participants is key to the success of the wiki.  Some will be more willing than others to try new things out, reach out to them.  The initial base of users will help to organize and populate the content by contributing more than average.  As the content grows, more thought will be put into organizing and reorganizing the Wiki to keep the content fresh and (hopefully) easily navigable. While it’s easy for one person to setup a Wiki, it’s essential for the user community to take ownership for their own content and, perhaps most importantly, for other people’s content.

Preformed Structure

When starting a wiki, throw up lots and lots of structure, incomplete is good.  People love to fill in the blanks.  Take the general idea that you started the wiki to cater to and plan out the different pages that you see it forming into.  Create those pages and link to them from an accessible location.  Format many of the pages with well thought out section divisions and headlines.

The average person is going to come to a wiki in order to get some information.  A certain percentage of the people that arrive there will be willing to contribute and leave some content behind.  However, the potential users of the wiki are not coming there to participate in inventing the wheel.

With a preformed structure in tact users face a lower barrier of entry and are able to fill in blanks and get the participation ball rolling.


While the wiki does not need to be filled in by the creators, a successful launch will include at least some ready made content.  Users need a template to model their own contributions after.  Innovations by the users will certainly happen, and a good piece of collaborative work rarely looks like what the inventors intended.  However, that ball must start rolling and giving a model for what contributions should look like makes contributing less intimidating.

New is good

  • Experiment with wiki plug-ins.  Don’t be shy about frequently adding new extensions and throwing out bad ones.  They are free and give Web 2.0 a constantly new and expanding functionality.
  • Add new content everyday and highlight it on the front page
  • Highlight features of the instillation many users might not know about
  • Bring new users in by gorilla marketing.  Put a link in your signature, answer questions by steering people to the wiki, etc.
Posted in Web 2.0, Wikis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.