Wikis, Blogs, and their Use in the Water/Wastewater World

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Courtesy of Water Environment Federation (WEF)

ABSTRACT
It would be difficult to find anyone who spends time on the Internet who has not heard of weblogs, better known as “blogs”. Wikis are less well known, though Wikipedia, the free online collaborative encyclopedia is helping to change that (www.wikipedia.org). Both tools are regarded as a new communication channel and the “voice of the people”. Up until very recently their use in the business world to manage knowledge, collaborate or implement new processes was nil and often dismissed.

But being dismissive about blogs and wikis because of how they are most often used today is a mistake (PCs and web browsers weren’t considered as serious business tools at first either). What is important is how they could be used. With so many utilities across the nation experiencing massive infrastructure upgrades and the exodus of their most informed employees (due to retirement) both occurring at the same time - - being able to manage knowledge, collaborate and immediately document new processes are more important now than ever before.

This paper explores how these two forms of what is termed “emergent technology” are being used in the business world. This use is then extrapolated to how they might be used in our world of water and wastewater, including a case study of a wastewater treatment plant using a blog as a communication/learning tool for their EMS for Biosolids program.

INTRODUCTION
Change is occurring at an ever-increasing rate in every facet of our lives. The workplace is no exception. Ever changing regulations, tools and technological advances demand that organizations and employees of these organizations be constantly learning new skills and adapting to new work environments. How this information is shared, documented, updated, and integrated into the daily work life becomes increasingly complex. Add to that our reality in water and wastewater world of having to deal with major portions of our treatment plant’s infrastructure being upgraded or rebuilt while experiencing twenty percent (or more) attrition due to the employees of the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age, and you have a real headache. Leaders need to constantly decide when to turn to new technology to assist with these demands and when to rely upon tried and true practices.

This paper explores the possible use of two online tools known as Wikis and Bogs. It is hypothesized that, given the right conditions, either can serve as viable tools for learning and communicating key and/or complex information within an organization.

Definition/History of Wikis and Blogs
Wiki-wiki is the Hawaiian word for quick. Wiki Wiki Web sites (Wikis) are sites designed for users to be able to make additions or edit any page of the site. They often have a common vocabulary, and consider themselves a 'Wiki' community. Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, a free online dictionary that anyone can edit, is a prime example of a wiki. A wiki enables documents to be written collectively in a very simple markup language using a web browser. A single page in a wiki is referred to as a 'wiki page', while the entire body of pages, which are usually highly interconnected via hyperlinks is 'the wiki'; in effect, a wiki is a very simple, easy-to-use user-maintained database for searching information.

A “blog” is short for weblog, an on-line web-zine or diary (usually with facilities for reader comments and discussion threads) made accessible through the World Wide Web. It is a web site that contains dated entries in reverse chronological order (most recent first) about a particular topic. Functioning as an online newsletter, blogs can be written by one person or a group of contributors. Entries contain commentary and links to other Web sites, and images as well as a search facility may also be included. Blogs took off in 1999 after blog development applications such as Pitas, Blogger and GrokSoup were released. The template-based software made it easy to create an online blog and continuously add entries without having to write the pages in HTML. Blog hosting services make it even easier to create a blog. All the development is done through the browser, and no software downloads are required.

By the end of 2005, there were more than 20 million blogs, and there are sites that track and index them (visit www.technorati.com and http://blogsearch.google.com). After the 9/11 attacks in New York, blogs were used to convey information, thoughts and feelings faster than any previous method. On controversial issues as well as mainstream subjects, blogs can quickly reach people around the world. The 'blogosphere,' which is the world of blogs, has become such a forum for public expression that it is being routinely crawled for reactions and opinions about products, politics and issues of all kinds.

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