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.

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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.”

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