Why Wired’s wiki won’t work


I decided to wait a little while before writing about the article wiki that Wired News recently launched, because I wanted to give it a little time to breathe and see what kinds of things people chose to add, and whether that made the article (which is about wikis) better or worse — or just different. After looking at what Wired’s experiment has produced, I’ve come to the conclusion that the wiki process works really well for something like an encyclopedia, but not as well for a news article — just as it didn’t really work for editorials when the Los Angeles Times tried it. (Update: The New York Times has a piece on wikis as a business model).

I should point out that this isn’t just sour grapes from a member of the old media. I’m a big fan of Wikipedia — I just don’t think the wiki model works all that well for a regular news story like the one Wired started out with. Why? In part, I think it’s because allowing anyone to contribute produces too much material, in a way. It’s not that I think letting the riff-raff in makes everything dull and quotidian, as Nick “I Hate Wikipedia” Carr seems to feel. Not at all. But when I take a look at the current version of the Wired article and compare it to an earlier one, there is just too much stuff in there — in fact, it reads a little like an encyclopedia entry.

Contrary to what I think many readers believe news stories and pieces of journalism are not meant to be encyclopedic, or to cover every possible aspect of a story or event. They take some material from here and there, and hopefully they are fair, but by its nature journalism boils things down. Why? Because — not to put too fine a point on it — long, detail-filled, encyclopedic stories are boring. The current version of the Wired piece has lots more information about wikis, has more examples than the original had, and goes beyond the wiki to discuss the Foo Camp and Bar Camp communities, and even gets into Second Life (because it is like a 3D wiki, apparently).

It’s not that these things aren’t valuable or worthwhile — and in fact, the comments page, where contributors discuss with the writer different things he could have done, or people he could interviewed, is a great example of what working with “the people formerly known as the audience” (as Jay Rosen calls them) can produce. But putting all of that into the article doesn’t really make it a better story in my view. It makes it a better encyclopedia entry. That’s my two cents anyway. I’d be interested to see what others think of it.


Obviously someone else thought there was too much extraneous information introduced into the Wiki story — they moved much of it to this page, but that change has since been undone. Oh, and one other thing: the most current lede sentence is much worse than the original. “Wikipedia has hit the big time,” while not a fantastic lede, is much better than “Wikipedia has edited its way into the major league.” Aaron Swartz (who co-authored the RSS 1.0 spec when he was 14) also has a fascinating look into how Wikipedia operates here.

Update 2:

Kevin Makice, who has been contributing to the wiki story at Wired, has some worthwhile thoughts here. I would agree that personality — or something like that — is part of what seems to be missing.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (6)

  1. BlogSchmog on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    […] Matt Ingram posted a critical blog entry a couple days ago, since updated. He thinks what was being produced is too encylopediac. We’ll see if in the end it holds up when the final bell sounds in a couple hours. I would agree that the content seems to be too broad, and there is a tendency to treat the examples added in as more important than they probably are. (For instance, someone after me added a bit on political wikis, and it was difficult to not mention PoliticWiki on the chance it would stick.) However, there is a lot of editing involved in writing. Restructuring some of this could address much of the criticism. […]

  2. PressThink: Exploding By-Lines: Update on NewAssignment.Net on Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 10:55 am

    […] Wired News asks readers to help edit an article: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do the job of a Wired News editor and whip it into shape. Don’t change the quotes, but feel free to reorganize it, make cuts, smooth the prose or add links — whatever it takes to make it a lively, engaging news piece.Mathew Ingram says it won’t work. […]

  3. Zoli's Blog on Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Wired Wiki, Numbskulls and Collaboration in Business…

    The Wired Wiki experiment is over – the collective result of 25 ad-hoc “editors” is now published on Wired News: Veni, Vidi, Wiki Was the experiment a success?  I think the process itself was,  but not necessarily the end result. After…

  4. […] Why Wired’s wiki won’t work […]

  5. Transnets, des gadgets aux réseaux: Web 2.0 on Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    […] A quelques jours de la fin de l’expérience Wired les sceptiques (comme celui-ci) peuvent toujours lever les bras au ciel en disant que le travail collectif est incapable de produire du contenu vraiment bien fait. Ça n’est pas encore certain (il faut attendre le 7) mais c’est possible. Mais rien n’interdit à Ryan et/ou aux éditeurs de Wired de reprendre le texte de base ainsi enrichi et, tout simplement d’en améliorer la forme. Cela constituerait une solution mixte et peut-être un nouveau modèle de collaboration… à condition que la contribution de tous soit reconnue et que le résultat soit publié sous la forme Creative Commons. […]

  6. […] other words, it’s more an encyclopedia entry than an article, concludes Mathew Ingram: is has a lot of information (perhaps too much), but it lacks personality. Ironically, other than […]