It started as a question this morning as I made the usual coffee. The question being, why should I write documents instead of webpages or wiki articles ?

Over the course of a large number of projects, I’ve always had a Wiki around to document things in. I have to say I really like wikis although they do take up a lot more time then you would think.

When I’ve needed to actually distribute information, it’s always in a document. Be it .doc(x) or PDF.

The reasoning is pretty simple: ultimately a document is a solid tangible artefact that can be printed, signed, and filed. You don’t ask for your employment contract as a wiki article and when you buy a house you don’t sign into Google Docs to get the deeds!

So when are online tools good ? The cons for online articles are many:

  • Wiki articles are constantly in flux and need an editor to keep them sane
  • Pages move/get archived, become out of date
  • Blogs are great as journals but no good for documents…
  • Websites for wikis are often internal
  • Easily edited documents aren’t always the best basis for agreement between disparate parties.

There is a possible future where all our documents are webpages constructed on the fly from some huge database, but for now, I think I prefer the old-fashioned document.

In a project I like doing the following:

  • Day to day information (where is x, why do y etc), development, discourse, commenting etc – Wiki. This means you can keep it up to date (do you ?!)
  • Blogs – team blogs – in place of reports ? maybe, but remember that people talk to each other so their use is limited if the audience is internal
  • Design decisions/Contracts/Pitches/Version Controlled lifecycle documents – Document formats. While Wikis and so forth provide workflow and versioning, there is nothing quite as close or transparent to your organisation as having a document with a date and version on it. Everyone can see it, and everyone can reference (cite) it.

Now, there is one problem that electronic documents have that wikis do not. Where to store and search them… that is something I’m still trying to figure out. Maybe we can take some ideas from our older colleagues here, since paper file based systems seem to have had this figured out over time.