Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Monday, June 20, 2005

The L.A. times suspended the "wikitorials" project after it got flooded with obscenities. (Everyone was, it turns out, right.)

[Steve Outing, senior editor with the journalism think tank Poynter Institute] said Wikis "are most suited for factual information where the content can become accurate because of the power of the intelligence of the group."

"Trying to do that with an opinion piece doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense," Outing said. "People with competing views would just try to get their particular viewpoint published and someone would go in and change it."

Fair summation. There were plenty of other problems with the Wikitorials model, but I think that was the biggest one. (Ernest Miller points out how much the edited editorials sucked.)

One problem thus far unmentioned: the wikitorials page propogated as a short-term web meme, with a smaller ratio of first-time visitors to repeat-visitors. First time visitors are less invested in the site and thus more likely to goatse it -- it's not a coincidence that the obscene pictures started right after wikitorials got posted on Slashdot.

In fact, it's one of the chief challenges facing the best-known Wiki, Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia where any visitor can add, change and erase someone else's entry.

Some contributors have attempted to impose their personal viewpoints -- for instance, by replacing an article on abortion with the word "murder" written 143 times.

*Sigh.* It's true that the abortion article periodically gets replaced with "Murderers!" etc. It's happened twice in the last two days alone. But check the history and you'll find that the overwhelming majority of the time, the murder page has lasted less than two minutes before being replaced with the article again.

Wikipedia has challenges -- solvable challenges, mostly along the lines of libertarian political bias, reluctance of professors to participate, etc. -- but total article deletions aren't one of them: nobody wants their work deleted, and so vandals bring the weight of a thousand vigilantes against themselves.

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