10 intranet lessons from Wikipedia

Why are people so willing to contribute content to Wikipedia, but not the company intranet? Hint: Your intranet needs low barriers to entry, and you can’t get caught up in the technology.

Persuading employees to use the intranet is one of the biggest challenges intranet managers face.

One of the main reasons is the difficulty in persuading employees to contribute good content that other employees will find useful.

Just how difficult this task can be is highlighted by feedback from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) online benchmark survey. (The survey has been completed by more than 45,000 intranet end users from more than 160 organizations.)

The chart below shows the breakdown of responses to the four questions about how often employees contribute content to the intranet.

As you can see, on average more than 90 percent of staffers are not frequent contributors. (Content contribution methods include discussion forums, commenting, team sites, messaging, blogging, micro-blogging, as well as publishing traditional intranet content.)

That’s a huge amount of handy hints, tips, information, business intelligence, insights, best practices, ideas, innovations, solutions, answers, knowledge, and good advice that is not being properly shared or managed by organizations.

This lack of involvement represents a virtual gold mine of untapped knowledge lying dormant within many organizations.

How can organizations mine this gold?

Wikipedia began in 2001 and has become the sixth-most-popular Internet site in the world (according to the Alexa website rankings). The Wikipedia statistics for June show that there were 11,071,642 page views per hour for the English Wikipedia. In anyone’s language, Wikipedia is a runaway success. And all the content is provided by volunteers.

How did this happen? Why do people contribute content? Can these same lessons be applied within an organization?

The article, Why did Wikipedia succeed while other encyclopedias failed, explains that there were seven collaborative encyclopedias that aspired to Wikipedia-like dimensions before Wikipedia itself came along.

So, why did Wikipedia succeed?

Focus on the content, not the technology.

Wikipedia focused on content development instead of technology. Its competitors, on the other hand, saw themselves more as technologists than as content providers. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the two Wikipedia founders, played the role of content evangelists, seeding Wikipedia with content they solicited from contributors—which led to more content and more contributors.

Lower barriers to participation.

Wikipedia also made it easier to participate. Editing Wikipedia is easy, immediate, and virtually commitment-free. It’s possible to come along and make an anonymous edit and never offer a contribution again. Over time, a sentence here and a paragraph there turned into articles, which then turned into an encyclopedia. Without this relatively low barrier to entry, the community would be difficult to sustain.

In addition, there are no professional editors that review material before it is published. Instead, it’s the people who visit the pages who are the reviewers.

Why do people contribute content?

The article Online Motivational Factors: Incentives for Participation and Contribution in Wikipedia also examines why people are motivated to contribute to Wikipedia. There are many research-based references, and it’s well worth reading. Key findings include:

  • Users will contribute more to a community if they:
  • Believe that their contributions are important to the group’s performance,
  • Believe that their contributions will be identifiable, and
  • Like the group they are working with.
  • Three conditions must exist for this kind of peer work to perform well:
  • Cost for the contributors is low; it should be easy to participate.
  • Tasks are chunked into bite-size pieces-minor editing is available and boosts participation because the threshold for initial participation is low.
  • The cost of quality control is low.

The article also notes that research has shown that a high level of both two-way and large-scale community interactivity is a strong inducement to participate. There is a strong correlation between interactivity and motivation in online communities.

10 lessons that can be applied to intranets

1. Become content evangelists—obtain seed content from contributors.

2. Provide a platform that is quick and easy to use, lowering barriers to contribution.

3. Make it possible for people to make edits on the run.

4. Consider the content review process: Is it unwieldy and a barrier to contribution?

5. Don’t get caught up in the technology; focus on helping users understand what you want from them rather than on dazzling them.

6. Provide tools to enable contributors to interact with one another.

7. Organize content community events and gatherings.

8. Explain how content contribution is important to the organization’s future.

9. Use gamification with incentives to reward desired user behaviors.

10. Make sure your platform invites rather than challenges.

A version of this article first appeared on


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