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.

Can MySpace compete with iTunes?

According to breaking news posts at Mashable and PaidContent, MySpace plans to start selling songs from the more than 3 million (3 million!) bands who use the social networking site. The site — now owned by giant media and entertainment conglomerate News Corp. — will be working with Snocap (started by Napster founder Shawn Fanning) and will offer songs in MP3 format, reportedly without digital rights management or DRM controls. MySpace competitor Bebo has already launched something similar.

Although the company is (naturally) pitching this as a competitor to iTunes, I’m not sure how much of a competitor it will be (Liz Gannes at Gigaom says it won’t compete directly because the major labels won’t want to give up their DRM). Out of those 3 million bands, how many of them are people likely to want to buy songs from? I think iTunes mostly appeals to people who want the latest hot single or a long-lost song from their youth, whereas the bands on MySpace are largely unknowns. That’s not to say the effort won’t help up-and-coming bands, as it has Fallout Boy or the Arctic Monkeys, but I don’t see that as necessarily competing with iTunes.

The ones who should really be scared of such an effort (if it succeeds) are the traditional record companies. As music-market middlemen, they are ripe for disruption. Mark Evans and Rob Hyndman have some thoughts worth reading as well.

Lonelygirl15 — the plot thickens

As I have already confessed, I am inordinately fascinated (see previous posts here and here) with a YouTube webcam “artist” known as lonelygirl15 and the question of whether she is actually a home-schooled 15-year-old whose parents are religious missionaries of some kind, or whether the series of videos she has uploaded about her relationship with her parents and her boyfriend Daniel are an elaborate Blair Witch-style viral marketing campaign for something or other (Brian Flemming, a filmmaker who said he wasn’t involved, might not be telling the truth).

Luckily, New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan seems obsessed as well, and has devoted much of her blogging time to tracking down the various elements of the mystery. In her latest instalment, she looks at some of the evidence that has led skeptics to believe the whole lonelygirl15 business is a giant conspiracy — including the fact that several domains with lonelygirl15 in them (including a fan site) were registered before Bree put any of her videos up. There’s some more details in this L.A. Times story (reg. required).


Even more details and rumours to mull over, for those without a life: Virginia has a new post, in which she talks about the mysterious (possibly unintelligible) phone message she got, and has some links to a new discussion group about lonelygirl’s identity and purpose. Also links to an L.A. Times column, a Joystiq post about whether it’s part of an ARG (alternate reality game) and a typically erudite column at the Times (although Virginia gets points for using the word “hermeneutic”).

Schmidt declines a little bit of evil

Let’s give credit where credit is due: Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who recently joined the Apple board of directors to much fanfare and rumour-mongering from the blogosphere, has reportedly declined the automatic grant of 30,000 stock options that are due him as an Apple board member, according to StreetInsider. Instead, he has said that he plans to buy 10,000 shares on the open market. Bravo, Dr. Schmidt.