September 4, 2006
Wikis Providing Greater Potential for Collective Intelligence

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about wikis and the way that they are driving new Web-based company models, with the sites acting as facilitators for communally authored pages.

The article, by Robert Levine, focuses on popular wiki-based sites that allow users to supply the content, with some minimal guidance from a facilitator. The thought is that these pages could be advertising-supported, with users generating the lion's share of the content. But, as Levine points out, these sites have to start posting the types of numbers needed to get advertisers seriously interested, must prove that their impressions are viable, and must monitor for content that advertisers would approve being associated with, since wikis without guidance can often lead to a few vulgar or "objectionable" additions along the way.

One of my favorite quotes came from Wetpaint's CEO Ben Elowitz, who said about his start-your-own-wiki site, "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and this is about the other 999,000 books in the library."

What does that mean for transmedia? Well, I think it's fairly easy to see how extensive of an interest fan communities have in Wikipedia, in having the chance to communally define the history or mythology of their favorite shows, films, books, magazines, news organizations, etc. We have written and mused plenty in the past about the importance of a collective intelligence at being much more accurate than a set of experts, particularly in the journalism field, as Dan Gillmor has written about in We the Media. And, while Stephen Colbert's objections to Wikipedia are noted, that social agreement cannot replace the truth, this version of the truth is much more accurate than the truth from one set of experts.

For businesses that are interested in capitalizing the power of wikis and avoiding the problems discussed in the Times article, it seems smart to make very concentrated wikis, for instance a site covering a particular genre or even a specific show that has a wiki dedicated to the history and characters of that show, film, publication, etc. This way, the power of the wiki will draw in the fan community while also presented a concentrated enough of a market for advertisers to focus on, thus making it a more viable business model.

And, no doubt a well-developed wiki site going in-depth on the mythology of a particular story world would be much more valuable to the fan community than the more generalized Wikipedia, which does operate as an encyclopedia. We'll see if fan sites and even official sites will be willing to start incorporate wikis more and more as they help facilitate and encourage user-generated content.

Thanks to C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio for passing this article along to me.