Tuesday, June 21, 2005

LA Times Yanks Wikitorial

The LA Times attempted to use Wiki to create an interactive online editorial feature this weekend. They started with an editorial urging a better-defined plan to withdraw troops from Iraq, and readers were invited to add their thoughts. Some did constructively, but soon "some readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material." On Sunday, editors decided to remove the feature, apologizing to those who had logged on in the right spirit.

Some bloggers predicted the outcome, noting that pile-ons would likely occur. Others pointed out that Wiki isn't really best for aggregating individuals' opinions, but rather is aimed at constantly verifying and updating facts.

"Wikipedia policy is that all articles should be written from a neutral point of view: without bias, representing all views fairly. According to Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, NPOV is "absolute and non-negotiable". [1]"

Of course, that's WikiPEDIA. There's no saying that there can't be different rules for WikiPINION, right?

The problem is, using Wiki for opinion might run counter to a couple assumptions important to the success of a Wiki. Wiki.org's Design Principles include one biggie:

Trust - This is at the core of wiki. Trust the people, trust the process, enable trust-building.

You have to trust that visitors won't alter the intended meaning of a previous Wiki entry. When it comes to the factual, that's a reasonable expectation. People who are visiting a Wiki about how to grow tomatoes generally are there to collect and advance knowledge on beefsteaks, not to throw them at one another.

But when it comes to the debatable, and certainly the controversial, that's a pretty unreasonable expectation. People often don't fight fair, especially when they don't have to put their name behind their words.

There are always going to be the morons. Wiki.org cites "Lord of the Flies Syndrome," in which "members of a community engage in unconscionable behavior, often not even civilized, if they feel they can be protected by anonymity, or otherwise are free from any (negative) consequences for their actions."

So - how could a newspaper better use Wiki for editorials?

Three suggestions:

1. Split each editorial into mini Wikis representing each point of view and containing the arguments supporting them. Keep in mind that sometimes there may be more than two points of view.

2. Act as third-party fact checker, scanning the Wikis and verifying and updating information and assumptions presented as fact by posters. This strays a bit away from the whole trust factor, but again, we're dealing with opinion.

3. Don't give posters anonymity. Just as the print pages do, require them to use their real names. Consider implementing a simple identification verification system. If someone has deemed his or her opinion worth shouting on the Internet, (s)he should be fine with people knowing who's doing the shouting.

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  • Undaunted, BW is considering wikis for article creation -


    Note interesting comments too.

    By Anonymous Morgan McLintic, at 12:10 PM  

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