What do you do when a wiki pilot succeeds? This is a question I'm hearing more and more. Usually the conversation goes something like this: "We launched a wiki pilot. It went great. Everyone in our group uses the wiki. We can't live without it. We'd love to see the rest of the company follow our lead. But...they're not."
In theory this shouldn't be happening. According to most theorists of social software, getting started is the only hard part. Once a pilot is successful, viral adoption and network effects are supposed to take over and ensure broader uptake, just like the old "and she told two friends" shampoo commercial. (BTW, if you have a URL for that commerical online, please post it!). Stewart Mader, for example, describes it this way on his blog:
Dwight is compiling his quarterly marketing report with his teammate, Jim. He and Jim use the wiki to add their respective statistics and compile the department's report. However, when the report is complete, it must be submitted to their manager, Michael, who will have comments. Rather than emailing the report to Michael and then manually incorporating Michael's changes, Jim realizes it will be far easier for him if he has Michael do it directly to the wiki document. Michael, in turn, has to submit the report to the regional director, Jan, who will have her own changes. So Jim signs Michael up for the wiki, and then Michael gets Jan to use the wiki. It can expand even more widely from there.
Stewart has a good example, but it misses the fact that adoption has a natural stop. If Dwight and Jim are working together on the wiki to create a departmental report, it's very easy for Michael to join them as long as Michael is working on that same report. But what about Mary, who isn't working on that report?
When wikis are used in-the-flow, they have natural boundaries beyond which adoption does not typically spread without help. If the Marketing group uses the wiki to research and write reports, then adoption of that wiki will probably end with the Marketing group (and maybe a few interested outsiders.) It's not a silo thing; it's just that when people use wikis to work together on an activity, that wiki is not usually interesting or accessible to people who aren't engaged in that activity.
This doesn't discredit the notion of viral adoption. But when we think at the level of the enterprise, rather than the pilot, we need to think about virality differently. Rather than viewing virality as the extension of existing wikis and use cases to new individuals, we need to see it as the extension of wikis to new use cases (and, by extension, individuals).
Just to put a name on it, let's call this "Use Case Virality" and contrast it with "User Virality". User Virality is when users pull new users into existing wikis and wiki-enabled collaborative activities. Use Case Virality is when users extend existing wikis or create new ones to support and enable new and different collaborative activities.
What I'm saying here, and what I think a lot of the standard talk about virality and network effects misses, is that User Virality all by itself does not generate enterprise-wide adoption. User Virality may result in some nice, contained pilot successes, but in order to go enterprise-wide you need Use Case Virality as well.