October 8, 2008

When is a Wiki Worth the Effort?

Mark Gould has an interesting post on Enlightened Tradition entitled, Social software in law firms. In it he cites the rule of thumb regarding participation inequality in social networks:

- 90% read, but do not contribute (i.e., "lurkers")
- 9% contribute occasionally (i.e., "dabblers")
- 1% contribute regularly (i.e., "true believers")

Unfortunately, it does get worse:

- the participation inequality demonstrated in blogs is 95 - 5 - 0.1
- the participation inequality demonstrated on Wikipedia is 99.8 - 0.2 - 0.003

This level of participation may be tolerable for Wikipedia, but it won't make for a convincing argument when you're trying to persuade your firm managers that a wiki is essential for your law firm knowledge management program. Nonetheless, should you take the 90-9-1 rule as gospel? We're told it applies to voluntary social networks on the internet, but does it apply equally to social media tools deployed behind the firewall? Some have argued that it need not apply within the enterprise if you take a few strategic measures:

- make it easier to contribute
- encourage editing over creating
- reward contributions
- promote quality contributions

Above all, the measure most likely to increase wiki participation is to embed the wiki in your work flow. For example, if the partner in charge of a matter decides that all team updates must be posted in the wiki and may not be circulated via e-mail, you will see a significant increase in the rate of participation. This suggests that when introducing social media tools behind the firewall, you can't adopt a strictly laissez-faire attitude. While an "if you build it they will come" approach may work on the internet, it's a different thing within the enterprise where inertia and heavy workloads tend to keep busy lawyers from discovering your new tools. By inserting the tools intelligently in lawyer work flow, you give them a good reason to break out of established routines and try something new. If you've deployed the social media tools correctly, this should be all the incentive lawyers need to move from lurker status to dabbler or (better still) true believer status. Then I'd suggest you quit while you're ahead.

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