Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wikia Works, a Case Study

Most readers are aware of Wikipedia, the online resource for information that isn't (and never will be) printed as hard copy. This remarkable creature of the Web and a growing number of cousins live in a netherworld midway between speaking and writing, a collective expression of a vast number of users, any of whom can tweak the content as long as they are willing to subscribe to a few basic rules. Moderators keep some measure of order, but their role has about as much control over content as the operator of a ferris wheel has over the monster standing there in the fairground.

My own awareness of Wikipedia grew several notches when I discovered that it was the go-to place for information about unfolding disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the aftermath of Katrina on the Gulf coast come to mind. It was not surprising, then, that within a few hours of the Virginia Tech killings a Wikipedia entry was under way, It became for me the place to go for the most timely breaking news.

A few weeks ago I was flattered to be invited to join, contribute to and participate in another Wikia site about politics. The contact person is a staff member working for the same individual or group that put Wikipedia together. I mention this not to brag, but to point to an expanding group of Internet phenomena, user-driven sites that take on lives of their own as swarms of users, like fish in a school or birds in a flock, move their collective mass in this or that direction.

My site, of course, has very few regular readers, but I like to think that one reader at Hootsbuddy's Place is worth scores of others among the teeming masses. I spend a lot of time putting my posts together and am vain enough to imagine that the quality is largely a cut above that of the average blog. (I tend to be wordy, I know, and my opinions about a few topics represent such a narrow view as to be near madness. For those drawbacks I have no defense. Charity on the part of my readers is all that stands between me and complete oblivion.)

I am content that about eighty percent of my traffic comes from search engines, mainly Google but others as well. I noticed yesterday that my Google Page Rank dropped from five to four, but I have no idea what that means, really. As I have said before, I blog more for my grandchildren and myself than the rest of the world. And if anyone else finds something interesting here, welcome. At the same time my TTLB rank barely returned to the top ten thousand so I expect to remain a pretty small fish in a very big pond.

Having said that, I now link to a timely and interesting piece from the Politics.wikia site which includes a YouTube video illustrating how the Virginia Tech story grew during the first twelve hours. Here is the article in toto at this moment. If enough readers at the site expand or edit, the content may change, but I don't expect that to happen. I do expect that in the future this will be one of the prescient footnotes of our time.

So on April 16, there was the Virginia Tech shooting. 2 hours later, it had a Wikipedia article that had these 19 words:

The Virigina [sic] Tech shooting incident occurred on April 16th, 2007. One person has been reported to be slain.

The article has since been edited by some 2,000 editors, with some 7,500 revisions. Here's what The New York Times' Noman Cohen wrote:

IMAGINE a newspaper with more than 2,000 writers, researchers and copy editors, yet no supervisors or managers to speak of. No deadlines; no meetings to plan coverage; no decisions handed down through a chain of command; no getting up on a desk to lead a toast after a job well done.

Think about it. In one week, the article went from 18 words, to a full length, referenced, and polished article. That's the beauty of Wikipedia. I couldn't imagine how this type of thing gets done, except for the fact that I contribute to a wiki. It's just a great thing.

1 comment: said...

Truly amazing - - - I always forget to check in w/ wiki once the gremlins get wet, but the speed of everything now is...

Imagine what we'd have to go off of if wiki had been around when JFK got killed!