Will publishers (ever) harness the wiki?

For all the hype about wikis and wikipedia, here is yet another experiment by a publisher, Wired.com,  to test the wiki principle. Unlike the LA Times experiment with the now-notorious “wikitorial” which ultimately degenerated into hate speech and porn, you would think the Wired.com example would have more chance of working. The Wired readership is more niche and probably more enlightened than the broader LA Times readership.

Well, the Wired attempt does not degenerate into porn, but after almost 350 edits of the original 1000-word story — which incidentally was about wikis — the journalist involved could not hide his disappointment at the result.

Although he does conclude that “the final story is more accurate and more representative of how wikis are used,” he notes that the edits “lack some of the narrative flow that a Wired News piece usually contains. The transitions seem a bit choppy, there are too many mentions of companies, and too much dry explication of how wikis work. It feels more like a primer than a story to me.”

Like the writer, Ryan Singel concludes, this is by no means a failure… and there may yet be place for a wiki on a publisher site (as opposed to a dedicated wiki site), but it needs more experimentation.

It also shows that the gatekeeping and editing function, by skilled, trained journalists who are attached to a particular publication with a particular ethos and target audience is important. How else do you ensure against ultimate mediocrity or just plain vandalism?

As Singel concludes: “…in storytelling, there’s still a place for a mediator who knows when to subsume a detail for the sake of the story, and is accustomed to balancing the competing claims and interests of companies and people represented in a story.”

Comments (3)

  1. Ryan Singel wrote::

    I don’t think I’d say I’m disappointed by the outcome. In fact, I think its better than I expected and in the final bit, maybe not as bad as I made it out to be in the post-mortem.

    And I hope this isn’t the last you will see of wikis and Wired News — we learned some things and hopefully we’ll try it again in different ways.

    Glad though that you found it interesting enough to write about.


    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 4:19 pm #
  2. matt wrote::

    Hi Ryan — ok, fair enough… maybe i was reading too much in the article re: yr disappointment or maybe I was projecting my own(?!)

    But it was a cool experiment — and highlights balancing act of encouraging user participation and user generated content with need to maintain a specific editorial style and standard. As you say… we’re still experimenting…

    Will also blog yr experiment on Poynter e-media tidbits later…

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 4:37 pm #
  3. Carly wrote::

    I think this is a really great experiment. I think that when a story has more than one author, its naturally going to be choppy – but what i think is MOST interesting here is the fact that the end product was said to be more accurate! Isn’t that enough of a reason to consider more of these experiments? at the end of the day, a more accurate story is more beneficial for everyone.

    Saturday, September 9, 2006 at 8:19 am #

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