Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's the gap?

At the office, we're working on a strategy around how we maintain and publish various types of technical information and instructions.  For instance, there's been a big emphasis around transition of system maintenance and support responsibility from project/implementation teams to support teams.  What kind of documentation is required?  Where should that documentation be stored?  What format?  Who should create it?  etc.

One of the big cultural battles has been a solution of MS Office documents and MS SharePoint versus MediaWiki.  It'll be obvious, but just to lay it out up front, I stand firmly on the MediaWiki side of this discussion. 

On the Office/Sharepoint side, you have an argument that "everyone knows how to use MS Office applications; cut and paste of screenshots is easy; you don't have to know how to program the wiki."

On the MediaWiki side, you have an argument that "Sharepoint organization doesn't make any sense; searching across different sites is awkward; you always have open a separate document in a separate application to see what you really want to see; and it just doesn't feel webby enough."

This argument from the SharePoint side that you have to program the wiki is the one their leadership is most adamant about.  "Our analysts aren't programmers," they say.  We're using a wysiwyg editor!  Is a little wikitext markup really programming?  I think the ability to pickup on a little wikitext is just like the ability to learn how to use formulas in MS Excel... and if you can't write a simple SUM() or =A1+B1 is MS Excel, then you don't have any business being in an IS job... or really any business support job for that matter.

Perhaps that's a strong statement, but I think that any IS person should feel comfortable picking up a little HTML or wikitext markup.  I often hold up my wife, an English major / office worker / writer, as an example of "if she can do it, then an IS person should be able to do it!"  But perhaps I'm looking at the wrong set of characteristics. 

Maybe the gap is a generational/cultural one rather than an educational/cultural one.  There's probably a more articulate way to describe that, but what I'm getting at is that my wife is also comfortable with blogging, Facebook, and the online / social community in general.  I wonder what percentage of people in the SharePoint camp are regular contributors to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks?

What is the gap between someone who thinks the business world is a collection of MS Word documents and someone who things the world is a more directly accessible, public, and transparent collection of content?  And how do we get people across that gap?