Today I had a quick chat with my friend Zoltan about the possibilities to have an internal StackExchange (SE) service in our company (SE is a question and answer site with a very nice gamification feature set). Unfortunately, we don’t have a good global knowledge sharing concept, and therefore we have different tools which don’t really scale, don’t work well with each other and are really hard to use. Of course, one can argue that knowledge sharing is possible with any of these tools if one knows how to use them properly and helps spreading the word about them. I don’t think that’s true.
Those tools are missing two really important ingredients: usability and gamification. A good knowledge sharing platform provides an easy way to find information. Maybe I’m too biased towards SE, but when it suggests similar questions while I’m typing mine is simply fantastic, and that’s what I consider usable. Also, when I’m looking at a question, I can see everything on one page: the question, the answers and the whole discussion which led to those answers. Everything which is important is on one single page so it is very easy to find.
For example, the Wiki platform has proven to be great for information sharing, but it has two limitations: there is only one good answer for a question and there is no easy way for the contributors to have conversation. Of course, you can check the discussion or history tab, but in order to do that you have to navigate away from the content, which is not really good from a user experience perspective (one must jump between two pages instead of looking at only one).
Usability is not enough, because it doesn’t guarantee quality, and that’s where the gamification kicks in. By answering questions, rating questions and answers, commenting and editing responses, one can collect valuable reputation points (and badges) which has a positive effect on the level, amount and quality of the contributions. Finding an answer from a contributor with a high reputation, or an answer with a lot of up votes most probably will solve your problem as well.
What about replacing all the external and internal communication systems with SE? Let’s say your customer has a question about your product. Why not simply let her ask a question in a natural way - not filling out a report - and let her also see the already answered, maybe related questions? I’m pretty sure that it would work. The next step is to migrate the issue tracking system to SE. The issue lifecycle is extremely simple: all issues start by someone asking a new question and ends by her accepting one of the answers. There are no states bound to an issue like in Jira and other issue handling frameworks. A perfect candidate for SE. I’ve already mentioned Wiki, and I think the last item which I mentioned was missing was the internal communication: internal chats. Well, SE comes with a pretty good chat functionality.
Oh wait, there is something else. Companies like to be nontransparent and secretive so the tool must support hiding contents from certain people. SE comes with user management and moderation functionalities and I think it is possible to restrict access to different subdomains. If this feature is not available, I’m quite certain that it is not a huge work to implement.
It seems we could solve all our knowledge sharing and communication issues with SE. If you don’t like SE, I’m pretty sure that there are other great tools out there which provide the same set of functionalities. Will people use it? I’m pretty sure they will. If they are willing to share there knowledge with the whole world - check the number of users of the SE network - then they won’t have a problem doing it for their company and colleagues.
What do you think about this idea? Will it work in your environment?
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