From IVP Wiki

How is journalism different when the tool is a wiki?

When and where we talked

At 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 at the Journalism that Matters Unconference at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Who showed up

  • Stevie Mathieu, journalism student at Missou
  • Paul Koberstein of Cascadia Times
  • Pam Kilborn-Miller, Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education - built a wiki to solicit neat ideas for social improvement
  • Robert McClure, InvestigateWest - considering a wiki about bird habitats in the PNW
  • Leslie Lannan - has used wikis for small programming teams
  • Kathy Gill, journalism prof at UW - longtime wiki user
  • Zani (sp?) Castillo, student at UW
  • Charlotte Crawford
  • Nancy White, Full Circle Associates collaboration consultant in Seattle
  • Michael Andersen, Portland Afoot - building a wiki for people who live in Portland without a car

How we started the conversation

A wiki is a Web site that anyone can edit. Wikipedia is the biggest and most famous. But there's a secret about news wikis: the anyone-can-edit feature might be less important to journalism than approaching the news from a "resource page" perspective. Resource pages are:

  • potentially cheaper to maintain than a constant churn of new information
  • SEO-friendly
  • good at doing what blogs are bad at: contextualizing.

We've seen this "resource page" idea pop up lately in the Google/NYT/WaPo "Living Stories" project. Cannily, Matt Thompson has also identified this as the idea behind "The Giant Pool of Money," the celebrated This American Life piece that grew into NPR's Planet Money.

What we learned

Basic wiki characteristics

From a wiki reader's perspective, wikis are especially useful to:

  • people new to a topic
  • people with low or passing interest in a topic

From a wiki editor's perspective, wikis are especially useful to:

  • people with a clear mission: "fix this buggy software!" "build a free global encyclopedia!"

Problems with wikis:

  • How to locate new content? RSS feeds don't work well with wiki edits.
  • How to find stuff you don't know you're looking for?
  • Unlike edited blog posts, wikis lack a finish line. Note that this is also a strength.
  • How can wikis verify factual claims? A more credible media outlet is a more useful one.
Can a wiki communicate its lack of reliability to readers, so their expectations are safely low?

Two strengths of wikis, which oppose each other:

  • motivations to action
  • collections of expertise

Recruiting and using volunteers

If your project is awesome, people will want to help. A community project like a wiki should always include explicit information on how to get involved (more than just editing).

Keep your barriers to participation low by doing usability testing: observe real people using your site. When it comes to design, fail early and often.

It's easier to get volunteers when the time commitment is limited. The lead-up to an event helps provide a finish line.

Lure volunteers with the promise of career expertise in lucrative new skills like "community management."

A tiny online community might expect 20 percent participation by its audience, tops. A big online community might expect 1 percent.

Some people aggregate around information; others around community. These two types of people are different.

Wiki strategies

Any media launch should start with two questions:

  • What is the problem that needs solving?
  • What is our desired outcome?

Should wiki content have a non-commercially license, forbidding people from making a profit when they reproduce it?

  • Pro: may motivate people to contribute more if they can make money off it later.
  • Con: may piss off your volunteers if someone else is making money off their unpaid work.

Marketing your wiki

To get things rolling, seed a wiki with plenty of content in advance. Pam's wiki started with 20 to 40 pages pre-launch.

Wikis die if they don't have a "heartbeat": the "push" function of email, blogs, etc. Without them, nobody knows what's new.

Can a local wiki get its "heartbeat" from the local news ecosystem, dominated by blogs and daily outlets?

One good audience for wikis: schools and educators. The mission fits.

Wikis need community organizers who operate in meatspace, to build awareness in the target community and to strengthen it.

On wikis where editing is restricted, it can be useful to temporarily broaden editing rights in the lead-up to a high-profile event.

Tactics for managing a wiki community

There will be trolls

Psychos will show up. Every wiki needs rules for dealing with them. Some sort of deletion policy is necessary.

Good practice for taming trolls: incorporate some adversarial content into your wiki pages. This co-opts troublemakers.

Instead of just letting everyone edit, consider opening comment threads beneath each piece. Pre-selected editors can then cull the comment threads for good ideas and promote valuable commenters to editorship.

A wiki needs facilitation

Good online community managers, aka "community technology stewards," offer praise by calling out good workers by name -- giving them that "I Rock" feeling.

Online community facilitation requires a balance of three sorts of tasks: content, social, and technical. Per Wenger, these can be described as the "domain," the "community" and the "practice."

Nancy White = awesome online community facilitator. So says Pam Kilborn-Miller, who ought to know.

Rule of thumb: whenever a wiki edit war breaks out, you've identified something your community needs to discuss.

Tools for your wiki project

Good wiki software:

  • pbwiki
  • MediaWiki - drives Wikipedia. Upsides: third-party plugins. Downsides: non-intuitive interface without WYSIWYG. Conclusion: more useful if you're hosting the installation yourself. Sort of sucky if you're not.
  • wetpaint
  • editme.com

Lots of links to wiki tools and news: at delicious.com/network/choconancy/wikis.