“While we read history, we make history.”
Although author George William Curtis lived long before the advent of the Internet, his words ring true in a digital age where compiling history has become a group effort.
In fact, Curtis could easily have been talking about a wiki, a form of Website that allows users to add and update content instantly using their own Web browsers. Today, the most popular wiki is Wikipedia, a massive online encyclopedia containing more than 3.2 million articles in the English version alone.
Wikis aren’t a new technology — the first one was developed in 1995 — but they are reaching a deeper potential for industries that choose to band together to use them. That’s why the advent of a new wiki for the pool and spa industry is so exciting, says Margi Millunzi special projects coordinator for Pool & Spa News and Aquatics International. “There really isn’t one giant repository of information about the people, terms, companies and procedures for the pool, spa and aquatics industries,” she explains. “So we decided to create it.”
The Aquapedia (www.theaquapedia.com) offers a place where information between industry members and consumers can be shared freely. Any company can update its own profile, provide pictures of projects, detail its history, and post information on its products. But The Aquapedia is more than simply a free public relations vehicle: It’s a chance for the industry to expand upon the knowledge shared by everyone.
What’s a Wiki?
The term “wiki” means “fast” in Hawaiian, and it’s a good description of how a wiki works. Wiki pages exist in an open forum meaning they can be created, added to and edited by any user. It’s common to find pages that contain just a sentence or two. These “stubs” mean that wiki authors hope someone else will write in the missing information. Over time, pages develop as other users, with expertise on that topic, add new information.
“A wiki is basically three things: a tool, a process and a culture,” explains wiki expert Peder Halseide, a communications systems consultant based in Ft. Collins, Colo. “As a tool, a wiki is a content management system that allows you to create and edit information easily on a Website. As a process, a wiki allows many people to work together to edit information, add notes, and even attach media such as pictures, music or video in one central place. And a wiki can impact the culture of a system when the information on it achieves a critical mass. At that point, simple information becomes knowledge.”
The Aquapedia has many features common to most wikis, along with some that are unique to the industry. There are five categories created to give structure to pool and spa information: People, Events, Companies and Organizations, Legislation, and Terms and Phrases. After creating a log-in, users can start to contribute information.
Why a Wiki?
The Aquapedia has the promise to be a useful tool, but only if it’s updated by the industry as a whole. So why choose a format that must be used industry-wide?
“Our Websites do a good job of showcasing articles, but that doesn’t mean that we have everything on every company, or explanations that consumers might be looking for,” Millunzi says. “We thought that if we could create a place to direct people to the right information, they could compare and contrast, and become better consumers.”
Some potential contributors might worry about giving away too much information.
“A wiki is by nature a self-checking entity,” Millunzi says. “We don’t expect that this was going to be a place for trade secrets. For example, you might not post what your 2011 pool cover patterns will be, but you might share the benefits of using vinyl liners and recommend dealers.”
Halseide agrees. “I look at a wiki as a system, and from that perspective, there really is no competition,” he says. “Instead of competing against people, you’re competing with them to create something better. It’s the same philosophy Toyota used when setting up automobile plants together with General Motors: Both companies gained the opportunity to learn how to improve car-making processes.”
A single authoritative industry source can also help to create a more focused message. “Once a core group starts to share, then that community can present the voice of the industry,” Millunzi says.
It would be a mistake to confuse a wiki with social networking, however. “The Aquapedia wasn’t designed to be a traditional social media platform,” Millunzi notes. “It was meant to be a ‘Who’s Who’ of the industry — where the major players show up and share information. If we can get consumers to go from The Aquapedia to an industry company’s Website, the lasting effects will be fantastic.”
An Industry Win
The biggest payoff of The Aquapedia is in the instant access to information, Halseide says. “A company might put its user manuals on the wiki so they can be accessed directly by technicians and consumers, rather than searching for them on a more traditional Web page,” he says.
Perhaps the most compelling benefit, however, is strengthening business. A weak economy means that consumers are doing more research these days before making a purchase, and investors want to know more about the industry in which they might spend money.
“If you can see that the industry has come together on a project like this, it gives a stronger overall impression,” Millunzi says.
- The 90-9-1 Principle
A breakdown of who visits and makes changes to a wiki site.
- 5 Ways to Wiki at Work
Wikis are more than a pleasant distraction — they are also powerful business tools.
- Wiki the Easy Way
You can help fill the industry’s pool of knowledge in three easy steps.
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