Using Wikis to Meet Your Editorial Goals
Technology has truly transformed the workplace. Most people conduct business through e-mail and on portable electronic devices, rather than using less efficient, less economical fax machines and standard mail. But now, publishers and editors are finding that even e-mail can be overbearing at times, with floods of messages taking over their inboxes every day. Many mornings are spent sorting through these messages, trying to distinguish whether they are inner office e-mails, press releases or business correspondences.
Michelle Manafy, who serves as editorial director for the Enterprise Group of Information Today Inc., and her in-house team have found a way to organize editorial content and collaborate on special projects, using a familiar technology: wikis. As editor-in-chief for EContent magazine, the Intranets newsletter, the Enterprise Search Sourcebook, and a journalist who specializes in digital technologies, Manafy is at the center of testing and deploying the use of editorial wikis within a publishing environment.
"My in-house team uses an editorial wiki for our editorial calendars, freelance writer pool, pay rates, etc.," she explains. "This not only enables us to work remotely as need be, but it makes training new hires much smoother."
Manafy spoke with Publishing Executive Inbox on how editorial departments can benefit from using wikis and how to incorporate them into a publishing workflow.
Inbox: What exactly is an editorial wiki?
Michelle Manafy: Most people are familiar with Wikipedia, the encyclopedia site. It exemplifies the wiki ethic in that any page can be edited by any reader. The reader is the writer; the audience is the content creator. There are a vast number of public-facing wikis like this, most revolving around niche communities of interest. However, wikis are widely used inside organizations for collaboration as well. These are closed networks and password protected. An editorial wiki is a collaborative workspace within an editorial environment for use by the entire editorial team.
Inbox: How are you using these wikis at your company?
Manafy: I lead a group at Information Today Inc., which has used wikis for many of its conferences, offering a public-facing, invitation-only place for conference speakers and attendees to share knowledge related to specific events. My group uses wikis more extensively and for internal collaboration. My core team -- which produces several publications and two trade shows -- uses a wiki to maintain our various editorial calendars; our frequent contributor contact information; review, case study, news and feature pitches; and a variety of other information that changes frequently, but that all team members could benefit from accessing and contributing.
Inbox: What made you want to use them?
Manafy: We produce an annual EContent 100 list, which has a panel of judges located all over the world. The first two years, we passed around Excel spreadsheets by e-mail. Next, we tried a very complex custom voting interface. Then, one of our judges suggested we try a wiki. It allowed this team -- all working at different times and time zones -- to interact like never before. Sure, they voted, but they all commented and provided feedback on each others comments, creating a much richer voting experience and, I think, a better list. It also creates an archive of what went on, which allows me to provide feedback to companies that didn't make the list. I was then asked to co-launch a magazine with an editor in another state and, well, the wiki seemed the natural choice so that each of us would know exactly what the other was doing so we wouldn't duplicate work and would keep our pay rates and schedules synchronized. Eventually, I extended the wiki work environment to all of my products.
Inbox: What was the process of implementing the wikis?
Manafy: If you've used blogging software, a wiki will be just as easy. No technical knowledge is required really. Essentially, you sign up (there are excellent free and fee-based products), and you start to create. With our wiki from Socialtext, you click "Edit" at the top of the page and start typing. It is that simple. To create a new page, you type the name of the page with square brackets around it. Then, you invite your team and get to work. The interface is intentionally basic to encourage everyone to participate.
Inbox: How can publishing companies benefit from using editorial wikis?
Manafy: The days of bustling news floors and weekly editorial meetings are becoming a thing of the past. Because of consolidation, the increasing use of remote workers, and the continuing expectation of writers and editors to work on the road, it becomes difficult to share information, not to mention capture it. Whether an organization exists on 20 floors of a New York office tower or a virtual newsroom with writers in their living rooms all over the world, a wiki can offer a way to share frequently-updated information with little or no IT support required. And, along the way, wikis capture all sorts of knowledge about sources, writers, ideas, and more that can be used by members of the team for years to come.
Inbox: What advice would you give publishers that are interested in using wikis?
Manafy: Wikis only work with clear objectives in mind. They are mission-centric. While communities of interest are highly motivated to fill the pages of a public-facing wiki, worker bees have jobs to do and won't fill the wiki for its own sake. The wiki must be an essential part of getting their jobs done. Take the editorial calendar, for example. For my case study editor to know what I've assigned, she needs to look in the wiki. For our editorial assistant to send out publication agreements, she has to go to the wiki. Once it is an ingrained part of doing business, other more creative aspects will emerge.
Find a project and try a wiki. Define something with a clear objective that will be accomplished in the wiki and nowhere else and see if it works for your team. E-mail is overloaded as a collaboration method; it is worth trying a wiki to avoid the inbox glut and to see if you can create a more useful and lasting means of knowledge sharing.