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Wikinomics: Combining Wikis with Economics; the More You Share, the More You Win

Mar 8, 2007 • general, wikis

wikinomicsWikinomics explores the economic side of wikis. In this Harvard Business Review (HBR) ideacast, Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, tells a story about a CEO of a gold mining company who embraced wiki principles to boost his company's revenue from 90 million to 10 billion.

Frustrated by his geologists' inability to locate the gold in his land, the CEO nearly closed the company, but in a final effort, decided to open up his intellectual property to geologists and engineers around the world to see if anyone could provide better guidance about the gold's location. The top three responses would be awarded half a million dollars. After evaluating the responses, he selected the top three and awarded the prize money. But then the really interesting part begins.

He used the information from the submissions to actually find the location of the gold. In one year, his company's revenue increased from 90 million to 10 billion. This is the power of mass collaboration. Had the CEO kept the intellectual property (IP) confidential, as most company's treat their IP, the company would have limited itself to a small intelligence. But collective wisdom seems to triumph in most endeavors.

This is just one story from Tapscott's book. It looks like a great read. For more online reading, you can visit his wikinomics website. Some reviews of the book do a nice job summarizing the principle of wikinomics:

"Wikinomics illuminates the truth we are seeing in markets around the globe. The more you share, the more you win. Wikinomics sheds light on the many faces of business collaboration and presents a powerful new strategy for business leaders in a world where customers, employees, and low-cost producers are seizing control."

- Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO, OgilvyOne Worldwide

"Collaboration – externally with consumers and customers, suppliers and business partners, and internally across business and organization boundaries – is critical. Wikinomics reveals the next historic step – the art and science of mass collaboration where companies open up to the world. It is an important book."

- A. G. Lafley, CEO, Procter & Gamble

"I love this book. How counter-intuitive is it that openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally would become key to corporate competitiveness, growth and profit? Mass collaboration is the most disruptive development in business in a long time. Consider Wikinomics your survival kit."

- Ross Mayfield, CEO, Socialtext

My favorite reviewer is the one who wrote, "the more you share, the more you win." How can this be applied to technical writing?

Most companies maintain tight control over the publishing rights of their help files. Sharing publishing rights with users may seem frightening, but the greater the risk, the greater the reward. We could share authorship with both our project teams and users. They could contribute tips, analysis, and insight that would take us beyond what we ourselves could create.

Most companies keep their style guides, templates, and writing methology secret. Anything you develop while you're at work becomes protected intellectual property of the company. But what happens if you share those templates? Or that stifling style guide? Readers might show you how to make them better.

Companies also tend to protect news about their IT projects. Exactly what are they working on, for whom, what's involved, who's working on it? Sharing that information would help bridge gaps between users and IT departments. Just having a development blog provides an access point for users to connect with developers, and for developers to connect with users. Feedback, sharing of ideas, and usability exchanges could flow freely with transparent, authentic project blogs.

Code about software is also secret. Your developers just spent the last year hacking out the code for that software. Are you going to release it to the public, for anyone to copy/use/view? Isn't that corporate suicide? But if the principle "the more you share, the more you win" is true, perhaps users would build on the code, and enhance it, and then give back to you. Rather than starting from scratch, you can mutually benefit. Keep building up, rather than building independently.

Tapscott says businesses that don't participate in the new mass collaborative web won't keep up:

In the last few years, traditional collaboration—in a meeting room, a conference call, even a convention center—has been superceded by collaborations on an astronomical scale.

To keep up, businesses will have to change their models of collaboration, opening up the doors to a global audience. The technical writing community is slow to embrace this trend, but in the future, adopting wikinomics may be mandatory just to keep pace with those who are.


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.