Update (Nov 3, 2010): I stand corrected, the president of Fog Creek Software informed me on Twitter that ‘the Stack Overflow Product is actually available for enterprises and a few of the top banks are using it internally”. Hopefully we can get more details around this soon…
Stackoverflow has turned the antiquated concept of basic Q & A into a very successful modern franchise. Enterprises grappling with fostering engagement within their knowledge communities should take note. While this platform is not available to to an internal audience, there are key elements that can still help in shaping your unique strategy.
Without further ado, here are the Top 3 StackOverflow Lessons for creating an effective knowledge-base:
- Kill Person-to-Person Collaboration
This is the kryptonite of effective knowledge sharing, especially in the Enterprise. Notice that Stackoverflow profiles don’t publish user emails – this is partially to protect the user from unsolicited contact and a flood of questions from newbies, but also to foster person-to-community collaboration. Enterprise Search solutions attempt to ‘open’ content that was previously sealed behind business silos after the fact – well, you can start by not allowing this content to be hidden in the first place. This is poorly done in most organizations, with most users shying away from public distribution lists to carry personal conversations under the fear of inconveniencing others!
- Make Participation Highly Addictive
Community up-take is the make-it-or-break-it factor for these applications, meaning they must be highly intuitive (low-barrier to entry) and highly addictive. Stackoverflow achieves this delicate balance through a simple yet competitive reputation system that draws out best-of-breed developers simply to compete and to learn from one another. A slightly refined version of this would work within the Enterprise as well; far too often, the incentive to participate just isn’t there. Before you can reward top participants, you have to start measuring.
- Recognize Top Contributors Externally
This one is somewhat controversial (like most new ideas are) but imagine a scenario where the ranking of the top contributors within your organization were opened up externally to prying eyes. Sure, this might be a frightening scenario if you’re worried about exposing (and losing) your top talent, but it’s also the strongest reward you can provide, too. Most traditional incentive/reward programs are completely hidden from the outside world, which misses the point, IMO. As nice of a gesture as a jacket or a $100 gift-certificate may be, the real value to heard-working professionals is recognition of their dedication and devotion within the broader community.
(Now, Stackoverflow promotes ‘flairs’ for different reasons, I think; for one, it’s a highly effective way to spread the word and drive in traffic through a hub-and-spoke model. But I think the implications for external recognition within the Enterprise community are far more profound.)
What’s your Enterprise doing to embrace the lessons from the Web’s top successes?
 – Finding Opportunity for Success in the Failure of Others
 – What is reputation?