The home page of Intelpedia, Intel’s corporate wiki.
Other companies should take a page from Intel’s collaborative workspace
Wikis are the poor cousins of social media. Seldom loved, often feared, always unsexy, a wiki is simply a collaborative website that can be directly edited by anyone with access to it. At its heart, a wiki is an online space for building collective info banks. (I’ve created more than a dozen wikis over the years, for Ourmedia, the Traveling Geeks and other organizations.)
In recent years, wiki software has entered the workplace, with companies like Socialtext, Atlassian, CustomerVision, MindTouch and Traction rolling out business-friendly versions, and a good number of Fortune 1000 companies, including Microsoft, Disney, Xerox and Sony, now using wikis. Wikipedia, natch, lists some of the features of enterprise wikis.But one early success story hasn’t received the attention it deserves: Intelpedia. I can’t link to it because it’s a private wiki, but I did spend an hour on the phone interviewing its creator, Intel engineer Josh Bancroft. In November 2005 Josh decided that his co-workers should have quick and easy access to a raft of company information, from internal projects to historical background. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to Intel and a member of the Intel Insiders, and I met Josh at Gnomedex 2006.)
Like so many successful projects, this one bubbled up from the bottom, and the idea quickly caught on inside the company. By April 2008, the wiki had grown to about 25,000 pages and received 100 million page views. About 500 changes to the wiki take place each day, and more than 8,700 people have contributed to it.
“In the four-plus years that Intelpedia has been up and running, I have had exactly zero reported instances of an unwanted edit — of someone spamming or vandalizing or doing something inappropriate,” Josh said. I’ve heard the same from other companies, which should allay the fears that some corporate executives still harbor.
What about the traditional corporate culture of locking up information? “By necessity, a lot of sensitive information needs to be controlled,” Josh said. Only information that couldn’t hurt the company if it leaked out to the public could be posted to the wiki.
“We haven’t had an example of sensitive information being shared outside the company,” said Ken Kaplan of corporate communications.
At its outset, there were handfuls of evangelists saying on an almost daily basis, “Hey, we should put this on Intelpedia!” The wiki got covered by Circuit, Intel’s internal online newsletter, which brought in a big influx of users. Josh and some of his colleagues then formed a voluntary group, the Intelpedia Distributed Editors, to help steer the wiki with a mailing list, a weekly meeting and to by helping to “garden” content contributions by newcomers. “No funding or resources from the company has been needed, and it probably never will be,” Josh said.
How Intel employees use Intelpedia
Intelpedia doesn’t serve every business purpose, of course. Wikis are good for knowledge sharing, but other tools — blogs, forums, email, instant messaging — are better for communication and short-term collaboration.
One of most popular pages on Intelpedia is devoted to company and industry acronyms. Another page is devoted to employees providing self-help guidance to Firefox, which Intel’s IT department doesn’t support. But employees quickly got past the idea that only encyclopedia-type articles should be eligible for inclusion, so you’ll see information about the Intel Sailing Club, the Intel Classic Car Collectors Club and neighborhood pickup football games. In recent months, employees have been using Intelpedia to share their Twitter handles, from personal accounts to product and business group accounts.
Intelpedia was built on on MediaWiki, the open-source wiki software that powers Wikipedia. “It’s a world-class wiki platform — easy to set up and amazingly powerful,” Josh said. “Imagine that you could have all the features and functionality that Wikipedia has on your own internal wiki.” Though Intel is a global company, Intelpedia pages are written entirely in English, just as most corporate communications are. A widget installed early last year allows people to embed videos on the wiki.
All in all, Josh deserves kudos for helping to enable collaboration and information sharing across departments and national boundaries.
Production note: I recorded my conversation with Josh and intended to produce it as a podcast, but the files became corrupted in Audacity, so I’m writing this post from notes I took during our call.
• Intelpedia Grows Up (Intel internal newsletter — PDF)JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.