Whither Wikis?

By Eleanor

Wikis, those indispensable
reference resources – Web sites where anyone can add or update content – are
still “cutting edge social media” after nearly 13 years, “with best practices
an evolving target,” says John Blossom, president,
Shore Communications, who organized and moderated a panel on the subject at a
recent SIIA Brown Bag Lunch.

Wikipedia has proven
user-generated content can be very high quality and can be accepted as authoritative and reliable when done
right.  As proof of this, social media sites increasingly come out at top of a Google search. What’s next?  Video and photos are bound to play a greater role as equipment quality
continues to go up and prices to come down.

What the wiki delivers that’s
different from a search engine is “a well-packaged story,” said Michael Sha, co-founder
and co-CEO of Wikinvest, a new wiki, still in beta. That speaks clearly to
their market appeal. Their diversity is an equally clear indicator. The key to their quality control, the primary
topic, varies:

  • Wikipedia, the granddaddy of them all, was founded in 1995. It achieves quality, said Mark Pelligrini, senior editor/contributor, by enabling quality to evolve in real time through policies requiring verifiable information, a neutral point of view, accuracy on a par with the encyclopedia Britannica and peer review. All the filtering is manual.
  • Newsvine, a new kind of news site, does it with an algorithm that causes content to fall away to an archive after 24 hours unless it gets enough votes, said Chris Thomas, top contributor. “Filters catch advertisers and astroturfers – corporations and other vested interests who try to create the appearance of a grassroots net movement,” he continued.            

Content is provided by both professional journalists as well as everyone else to create a comprehensive ecosystem of both subject areas and contributors that
mirrors the real world. New user content
lives in the “greenhouse,” a purgatory with no live links for search engines to
follow. After users prove themselves,
their content gains full access.       

  • Wikinvest, an investment information site, has “a broad population of people who are knowledgeable about certain areas” of finance – people “passionate on the topic who desire to interact,” Mr. Sha stated. “Filtering tools bring out the best,” he added.  The tools identify the most valuable contributors, those requiring the least review. This wiki can be a great platform for asset managers, positioning them as authorities on investment strategies.

The site consists of objective summaries of companies and of
investment areas, or industries, subjective bull or bear commentary on each,
and descriptions of the contributors creating the content – already more than
100,000 of them.

Transparency is Wikinvest’s secret of quality control. Every edit can be tracked.

  • WikiAnswers, a Q&A community acquired by Answers.com last year, consists of questions and answers, each entered by the same or different contributors, each open to edits by anyone, reported Bruce Smith, Chief Strategic Officer. Over100 supervisors – all with day jobs – control quality in their specific subject areas.

What motivates
contributors? Fun – pure enjoyment – is
the No. 1 reason, according to a recent MIT study, with which panelists agreed.
Contributors are enthusiastic about their subjects and enjoy sharing their
knowledge and interacting with like-minded individuals. In addition, they can
improve themselves and advance their careers by building a reputation and even
driving clients. Newsvine adds one further dimension: it shares advertising revenue with contributors
whose content attracts the ads.

But how does free content generate

  • Wikipedia solicits individual and corporate contributions.  It also sells feeds to subscribers, big search engines and cell phone providers. Some people license the database and post a mirror site with advertising. On-site advertising is not feasible because the community reacts “very negatively.”
  • Wikinvest will test syndication. If it moves to charging for premium services, these charges would never involve content access. Advertising is a distinct possibility for the future.
  • WikiAnswers will monetize with AdSense and with ads when answers can add user value by being on an iPod but, like Wikinvest, will not charge for Web access to content.
  • Newsvine carries ads and pays 90 percent of ad revenue to contributors.

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