Watching a wiki-article written is like watching sausage being made

Watching an article being written wiki-style is like watching sausage being made: I was going to post a long, rambing observation written over the course of several days about this story on Wired.com that was written by volunteers using a wiki. I was going to say that wikis are great for lots of things, but writing a news article is not one of them.

However, I’ve decided instead to point to Ryan Singel, the reporter who quarterbacked the project. He says what I had been trying to find a polite way to say.:

“Is it a better story than the one that would have emerged after a Wired News editor worked with it? I think not. The edits over the week lack some of the narrative flow that a Wired News piece usually contains. The transitions seem a bit choppy, there are too many mentions of companies, and too much dry explication of how wikis work. It feels more like a primer than a story to me. That doesn’t make the experiment a failure, and we clearly tapped into a community that wants to make news stories better (which, for some, means links to their site). Hopefully, we’ll continue to experiment to find ways to involve that community more. But I think the experiment shows that, in storytelling, there’s still a place for a mediator who knows when to subsume a detail for the sake of the story, and is accustomed to balancing the competing claims and interests of companies and people represented in a story.”

Again, I’m more than a fan of wikis. I even tend one. But I think there are much better ways to integrate wikis into news writing than to invite a crowd to group-write a single article. Writing needs a point-of-view and voice and what’s that word — talent. I think it was Plato or Aesop or me who once said, “A camel is a horse created by folks using a wiki.” A camel is good for many things, but winning the Kentucky Derby is not one of them.

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