Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on wiki success and failure [podcast]

Jimmy Wales, best known as founder of Wikipedia, met with a small group of bloggers and industry analysts in Las Vegas. He spoke at length about the conditions that drive success or failure in wiki deployments.

Jimmy Wales, best known as founder of Wikipedia, met with a small group of bloggers and industry analysts at SAP's TechEd conference, which is being held this week in Las Vegas. During the 45-minute discussion, Jimmy spoke at length about the conditions that drive success or failure in wiki deployments.

Jimmy Wales
Maintaining unity of vision and purpose is a key ingredient in successful wiki projects, according to Jimmy; if the content is interesting and focused, the wiki will likely succeed. In addition, support is also necessary:

Day-to-day handholding and customer support of young wikis is important. People need to learn the wiki way of thinking and doing things.

Conversely, a key contributor to wiki implementation failure is insufficient critical mass; wikis are a network phenomenon and require community to succeed. Given this, Jimmy said wiki organizers must make even casual users comfortable participating. He also believes it's important to ask why wikis fail:

The design philosophy of a wiki should include lowering barriers to entry to help gain critical mass. Make it easy for newcomers. One way to kill a wiki is to make it seem like you need to be important before you can contribute.

Many wikis fail because founder is a jerk; others fail because owner is too soft and the jerks take over.

Importantly, Jimmy talked about the relevance of corporate culture on the success of wiki deployments. I asked whether wikis could therefore indicate an organization's corporate culture, which Jimmy discussed at 24:30 in the podcast.

Notes on the podcast. The discussion was attended by 10 or 12 participants. Mark Yolton, Senior Vice President of the SAP Community Network, introduced Jimmy Wales. If you're interested in Jimmy's views on wikis in an enterprise context, you'll enjoy this conversation!

[The interview was organized by SAP's blogger relations program, in which I participate. Image via Wikipedia.]

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