Lots of attention paid to GCpedia lately (if you are outside the GoC firewall, you likely cannot click through).
What is GCpedia?
It’s the, erm, “Government of Canada internal wiki proof of concept” — but really it’s an attempt at creating a information sharing space for federal civil servants to improve decision making, processes, and ultimately service delivery. Borrows a little from the Intellipedia concept, and closer to home, it’s building on the success of the Department-wide wiki experience at Natural Resources Canada.
Here’s some reactions to GCpedia from around the interwebs:
- it was officially launched at GTEC last week
- Library Boy was right there when it was reported
- SoSaidThe.Org was very happy about it (to the point of using an exclamation point in the post title!)
- the CPSRenewal blog mentions it in a discussion on open source in government
My two cents: Yes it’s a great step forward, and it’s a good idea to keep it internal for now. My main worry is about usability for newbies.
Why? For most of the potential user base, this wiki will be their first real exposure to social computing at work. Make no mistake there will be a learning curve, and it makes sense to me to have folks’ first steps in this direction take place behind the firewall.
The geeks among us have been waving the social media, web 2.whatever flag for a while now (I’m a johnny-come-lately to be sure, but I do enjoy drinking the koolaid), but from what I see in the cube farm around me, this hasn’t percolated outwards too much.
I know that the mantra is “it’s not about the technology” is au courant, but I’m afraid that at first, it really still is about the technology. Or the interface at least.
Wikis depend on contributions, which means that folks need to actually be able to make edits successfully – i.e. they need to be able to actually use them.
Which makes the fact that GCpedia is running on MediaWiki kinda tricky — there’s no WSYWIG editing, and for a lot of my colleagues that’ll be a huge barrier to participation – I’m talking about folks who’s computing activities are pretty much limited to email, Microsoft Word and a browser. Maybe Excel too, if you are really lucky. They can handle their blackberries for email (but don’t ask them how to get on the Web using their handhelds). Don’t get me wrong, they are smart cookies, but their patience with computers and software and fiddling about in the interwebs is, well, lower than mine.
So dealing with the wiki will be an issue in terms of usability. Wiki editing, with all those single quotes and square brackets and whatnot, is confusing to people with no experience doing markup. (I’ve been able to fake it by copying from examples I find that are similar to what I want to achieve, with mixed results.) The editing toolbar also has unfamiliar buttons. Persevering types will get over it, but it will be alienating for large numbers of bureaucrats. I can envisage GCpedia becoming quickly skewed to a place for geeks in government.
I gather that the choice of wiki platform is robust (after all, it powers Wikipedia), so it can scale well. But I’m worried that the interface will result in contributions being limited to IT folks and a few other enthusiasts (wannabes?). And that’s a very small slice of the bureaucracy, one that arguably has the least to gain from GCpedia.
Perhaps my trepidation is misplaced. I certainly hope so – I want to see GCpedia succeed rather than fail. And I gather that the NRCan wiki that I referred to above is also built on MediaWiki – and from what I have heard and seen, it’s been very successful. Will have to find out more about how they have dealt with these challenges.