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Peter Thoeny
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Wiki That!

Wired News Wiki Story Experiment

Here is an interesting news story on wikis, written by wiki experts. Wired News reporter Ryan Singel created a first version of a story on wikis, and put it up on a wiki page for anyone in the world to edit. It was an experiment; some people predicted it to fail. In summer 2005, The Los Angeles Times tried out a "wikitorial," a collaboratively written editorial. They had to pull down the wiki soon after it went live because it was being flooded with "inappropriate material."

Ryan's initial version of the wiki article was concise and had a story. After Wired News announced it with an Edit This Wired News Story article on 29 Aug 2006, edits started to jump. In fact, that day was the day with the largest number of contributors. Some vendors came in to pitch their product. With this, the article changed from a story that had a nice flow to a "primer", as Ryan described it. Some people tried to bring the article back into shape. One person even split it into two, moving vendor pitches into a separate wiki page named "Enumeration".

Wikipedia has well defined guidelines and processes for content contribution. This wiki story wiki had almost none. In a wiki community, the community takes care of policing itself; whereas in pre-wiki days access control is used instead. Wikipedia initially did not have many policies and guidelines, the community discovered and shaped them over time. Jimmy Wales set only a few guidelines, such as contributing with a neutral point of view. The wiki story wiki did not have the time to discover and shape a policy. Nevertheless, it was striking that there was a consensus to bring back a story into the article. The contributors communicated with each other in a discssions page. There have been some back and forth edits, but overall the article got much better over time.

In his post mortem, The Wiki That Edited Me, Ryan mentions:

Certainly the final story is more accurate and more representative of how wikis are used.

Is it a better story than the one that would have emerged after a Wired News editor worked with it?

I think not.

The edits over the week 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.

Ross Mayfiled, CEO of SocialText, blogs that "the Wired Wiki experiment can be called a success." He was actively involved in moderating the wiki story wiki, possibly because Wired News was hands off after posting the article.

The daily statistics on the number of saves and the number of editors reveal an interesting pattern:

08-24 2
08-25 21
08-26 0
08-27 0
08-28 17
08-29 81
08-30 33
08-31 9
09-01 19
09-02 22
09-03 8
09-04 13
09-05 33
09-06 90

08-24 2
08-25 2
08-26 0
08-27 0
08-28 3
08-29 27
08-30 12
08-31 7
09-01 9
09-02 8
09-03 5
09-04 6
09-05 9
09-06 11

Number of saves per day

Number of editors per day

As expected, there are two spikes: The first one on 29 Aug when Wired News announced the wiki article experiment, and the second one on the last day, at deadline.

Wired News published the story with only some minor edits on 07 Sep 2006 morning, Veni, Vidi, Wiki.

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