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A knowledge base, similar to a wiki, is a managed collection of user-submitted articles and information. A knowledge base-type repository is usually dedicated to a specific program or process, and information can be submitted by developers, technical support personnel or end users. The democratic nature of the knowledge base allows it to grow organically and rapidly but also makes the information difficult to maintain and, in the worst cases, unusable.
The biggest advantage of a knowledge base is that it allows a variety of users to contribute to the knowledge base results in live documentation and generate a dynamic, relevant conversation. Also, because it includes contributions from development, tech support and end users, those doing online research can explore the same problem from several different viewpoints, possibly leading them to a solution that they wouldn't have considered on their own.
The different writing styles and knowledge levels of contributors often result in a disjointed, nonstandardized document, which is one of the biggest disadvantages of a knowledge base. Redundancy becomes the rule rather than the exception, and the same mistakes may be added to the knowledge base several times over. Dedicated maintenance is thus required.
Also, because a knowledge base starts out as an empty database, it is not appropriate to use as a primary source of documentation for any new product or process. A knowledge base requires time to build as scenarios and problems are found, resolved and documented.
Prominence of Information
The democratic, organic nature of a knowledge base means that the most important information is likely to make itself prominent, while the less important information will be buried, giving knowledge bases a natural sorting function. If poorly-written or incorrect information is submitted, other users can bury it by replacing it with better information or can flag it for deletion/review by an administrator.
Old articles left in the knowledge base provide an automatic archive of documentation for legacy versions of the product or process. The naturally forming archive is an advantage of knowledge bases. As new versions of the product or process are created, the knowledge base can be reorganized or restarted to archive the old information while keeping the latest information prominently featured.
Dedicated personnel needs to be appointed to spend a few hours a week searching the knowledge base for redundant, outdated or inaccurate resolutions and deleting them as needed. They should be trained in the use of the knowledge base and know how to search it effectively so they can determine if an article already exists before they contribute a duplicate.
Leon Williams has worked as a fiction editor, sporting goods retailer, rock musician, systems analyst, help desk technician and marketing coordinator. He holds a bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University, where he studied English, computer science and new media. He has had work published in a variety of online venues as well as the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series of books.