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Red Herring and the LA Times experiment

April 25, 2007

Red Herring just ran a piece on the recently launched MindTouch Nexus product. It cites the ill-fated LA Times wiki.

Red HerringRED HERRING

Using open-source wiki software, then-editorial page editor Michael Kinsley opened up an Iraq war editorial to anyone who wanted to edit it. The story quickly degenerated into a porn-infused, obscenity-laced fest.

The already-cautious industry took note, and wiki experiments were shelved in favor of somewhat less controversial community-building features, such as social networking, blogging, and, most recently, user-generated video.

But now, newspaper wikis could be on the rebound, starting with a foray by the San Diego Union-Tribune. That development is being pushed by wiki platform startups offering tools that require community editors to register and allow for management oversight.

I spoke about the benefits to the newspapers and community members here previously. MindTouch Nexus isn't about enabling newspapers to leech content from the community nor is it about replacing journalists with an amorphous mob. MindTouch Nexus is about helping newspapers to own the local content space by empowering their users to participate in the creation of the most comprehensive local resource sites. This is a symbiotic relationship that both the newspaper and the community benefit from. Newspapers provide a trusted editorial voice. They also provide nationally syndicated content. Finally, with MindTouch Nexus they're able to extend their content offerings by stewarding a community site around specific local communities of interest. The local community members benefit from a great local resource and local businesses and events get more play than what would normally be possible because the community members can participate in providing coverage. It's a beautiful thing that wouldn't be possible without both parties.

As for the LA Times wiki debacle..err…experiment. They launched a wiki that allowed anonymous editing and didn't even prevent spam-bots from contributing nefarious content. Of course it was a mess. Simply requiring a login and preventing spam-bots would have gone a long way to making this a more successful experiment. Also, the topic they picked was a rather contentious issue: the war in Iraq. Anyone who contributes to Wikipedia knows this is just looking for trouble. Many contributors at Wikipedia refuse to edit contentious topics like this because it frequently leads to edit wars and a lot of angst. Of course, with MindTouch Nexus the community of editors selected by the newspaper or online publisher has some useful tools for preventing and controlling these kinds of edit wars; although, if you're launching a wiki about your local music scene, sports club, or tourism they aren't really needed. Clearly, a universally editable op-ed about the most contentious national issue is an entirely different beast than creating a comprehensive "localpedia".

We're seeing a lot of excitement about this kind of wiki based community offering from both members in the community who want a voice in shaping their local online resource and from online media, newspapers, and commerce sites who want to engage their audience in a more meaningful manner than is possible with comments on blogs. 

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