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Marshall's Web Tool Blog

Training and Consulting in New Tools for Effective Web Use

This site is an archive of posts that I hope you will find useful. Please visit my new site at Marshallk.com.

LA Times Wiki and A Lack of Understanding

So the LA Times let users wikify a set of editorials about the war in Iraq this weekend, but since posting the experiment on Friday they have already removed it come Sunday. It was taken down because of defacement! What a shame. For those who don't know, a wiki is a web page that anyone can edit. That's the basic idea, but a good wiki also contains all previous versions of the page, makes it easy to revert to previous versions, and asks users to describe any change they make. With enough eyes on it, a wiki develops wonderfully and spammers and saboteurs are quickly taken care of. They are great for collaborative knowledge and document development, amongst other purposes. I don't think an editorial is a very good use of wiki, but it was removed before I saw it, so I don't know how it played out. The best example of a wiki in the world is Wikipedia (link to English version).

About.com's columnist on US Politics wrote a couple of dreadful articles about the Time's wikied editorials: here (discussing it's launch) and here (on its closure).

Here's what I emailed the columnist:
Hi, re your suggestion that there be a waiting period before you can edit a wiki. I'm a consultant who trains people how to use tools like wikis, and there is no reason for a waiting period or any other kind of control. There was no reason for the LA Times to remove their wiki article.

The way a wiki works is that each reader should make sure the article is in good shape when they find it and leave it (deleting spam in it if necessary, for example) and readers must understand that the content cannot be found in the front page of the article alone, but is found in the whole body of previous versions and page history. Wikis are unbreakable for this reason. If enough people are deleting spam when they come upon it, the system will work just fine. I imagine the Times folks were just scared, and the users were rude, and people involved didn't know how to use a wiki well enough.

Best wishes,
Marshall Kirkpatrick

Of course her spam filter denied my email, so she'll never get it. A discussion wiki space after each of her articles sure would be nice. There's nothing like that, but there sure are lots of ads on the page! I also used the comment space over at A Real Waste of Time's write up on the LA Times wiki to stick up for wikiworld.

These are such simple concepts, it makes me sad that people are so quick to grab hold of simplistic critiques. Yes, the fact that anyone can edit a wiki article means that anyone can deface it as well. But it also means that anyone can fix it. Usually with one button "revert to previous version." Is this really so complicated? Perhaps critics should learn how something works better before being so vocally critical.

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