Does Wikipedia deserve to be among the decade’s top ten works of journalism?

Working my way through a backlog of newsfeeds from the past week, I ran across a blog post on by Greg Beato called, “Where’s Wikipedia in NYU’s list of the decade’s top journalism?” While he doesn’t make a convincing argument that Wikipedia belongs on the NYU list (it was a list of top journalism, not top things that will change journalism forever), he does raise several points related to need for a type of news coverage that provides background, explanations and context.

Key quote:

“And so while Wikipedia doesn’t do any original reporting or break any news itself, it has established itself as a go-to site when big stories break.”

Last September, in a post suggesting people watch the progression of Wikipedia page during a breaking story, I outlined many of the specific facets of the creation and evolution of a breaking-story Wikipedia entry that make it, in my opinion, the current benchmark for a contextual model of journalism that compliments the “breaking story” model developed over the past two centuries.

As I said in the previous post, many people — even savvy journalists and new media pioneers — have problems with certain approaches, policies or flaw with the website, Wikipedia, that keep them from digging in deeper to understand the platform and approach. I feel certain that Wikipedia would not be Wikipedia were it not for the “user-contributed” open nature of the site. However, a comprehensive wiki-model resource that “contextualizes” (a word, I promise never to use again) a narrow niche, a city, a topic, a company’s in-house resources and corporate knowledge and policies, each can be developed by “professional” journalists or other content “pros.” The “user-generated” part of Wikipedia is only one facet of why Wikipedia (and the MediaWiki platform) deserve to be among the top ten things of the past decade that have changed journalism — and research, and knowledge-management — forever.

[This is related to, but not a part of, my series on Content that Works.]

You don’t get Wikipedia, so stop trying


For years, I’ve been reading that Wikipedia is dying. (Of course, on the internet, anything successful attracts an “is dying” movement.)

Today, there’s a Wall Street Journal article that does a half-way decent job of glancing at the history of the site, but does so under a headline that suggests “volunteers are abandoning the site” and implying, at least by implication, that Wikipedia is declining. The article, however, points out that usage of Wikipedia is actually increasing.

I soon will be writing quite a bit on the topic of wiki development and culture, so I won’t go into the topic deeply in this post, but I can say with some authority and experience: Wikipedia is at a stage where casual volunteers should abandon it. Again, I don’t have time now to explain what I mean, other than to say, there is a user-to-contributor ratio on an open wiki project like Wikipedia (and, the wiki where I serve as creator and head-helper), that is optimal for maximum productivity. Too few volunteers or too many can create challenges that detract from the overall potential and quality of the wiki. The “Baby Bear (just right)” number of volunteers is one of the secrets to wiki development success that only a few projects have cracked. Again, I’ll be writing on that topic more in-depth later.

If you understand wiki development, you would understand that Wikipedia needs fewer, more dedicated, volunteers, at this point — not more drive-by volunteers like it may have needed in the past. It needs volunteers who can add accuracy to the content that’s there. It needs volunteers who can improve the usability, taxonomy and navigation of the site. It needs volunteers who can enable it to raise the funds necessary to sustain the content that’s there already.

But the volume of volunteers is not important for Wikipedia, at this point.

Frankly, I’d prefer to see some of those volunteers take what they’ve learned working of Wikipedia — both what they like, and what they don’t — and go create their own wikis, or volunteer on some more tightly-focused wiki projects. (And yes, email me if you’d like to bring some of that Wikipedia volunteer knowledge over to helping build

Wikis can be maps, too

Longtime readers of this blog (and the two of you know who you are) are aware that I love maps. I’m on record as saying the greatest software ever is what is now Google Earth. In presentations about social media, I always emphasize that the way in which people “express themselves” on the internet is often not in blog posts or tweets or sharing-photos or video. For some people, expressing themselves is more about making lists, or bookmarking websites, or helping out on wiki mapping project.

A wiki mapping project? (In this case, I’m using the term “wiki” to mean a collaborative effort to create a common body of knowledge. I’m also using the term here to help in my never-ending quest to help those living outside the technosphere bubble understand there are some incredible wikis on the web that don’t have the name Wikipedia.)

But back to maps.

A long time ago, when Google first added the “My Maps” feature to Google Maps, I demonstrated how people can express themselves by creating a map by putting together this map of the Richland Creek Greenway, a “linear park” near my office and home in Nashville. Since then, I have created several maps and photo collections of other Nashville greenways (but I have a long way to go in the project).

Today, the NY Times has a great feature on how thousands of people are doing something that’s as much “social media” as blogging — but you’ve never heard of them. They are quietly yet passionately adding their human touch and knowledge helping make online maps smarter — and more open. It’s a great story and worth reading.

Great quote:

“Google is increasingly bypassing…traditional map providers. It has relied on volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally. Last month Google dropped Tele Atlas data from its United States maps, choosing to rely instead on government data and other sources, including updates from users.

Here are some of the “mapping” grassroots wiki efforts the article mentions:

Google Map Maker: A Google tool that allows individuals to collaborate on map creation — think “wiki” and “maps” — adding information that can make it onto the version of Google maps we all see. (Read in the article about Faraz Ahmad of Pakistan who has logged more than 41,000 changes.) A nonprofit group whose mission is to make free maps that can be reused by anyone. 180,000 contributors have mapped many countries in varying levels of detail. (Again, think “wiki” and “maps.”)

WikiMapia: An annotation project layered on top of Google Maps. (Again, think “wiki” and “maps.”)

WatchKnow: How teachers (and parents) can find short, online educational videos


WatchKnow sounds like a great idea for teachers — and parents. It’s a “non-profit community” devoted to creating a directory of cataloged, sorted and rated videos that teachers can use. Nice touch: A search function that allows teachers to filter the search by age-appropriateness.

The idea of developing an “educational video encyclopedia” started in 2007, but was relaunched yesterday with 10,000 videos posted to a newly redesigned site, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The project was an idea of a Memphis-suburb anonymous philanthropist and is funded by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, who enlisted the help of Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger.

(via: ResourceShelf)

My Wiki 101 presentation from Barcamp Nashville

Typically, my presentation “slides” are meaningless without me narrating them. They illustrate what I’m talking about, so if I’m not talking, well, you’d have to make up your own story to go along with them. However, several people asked if I’d post this presentation from yesterday’s Barcamp Nashville, so last night, I created the “annotated” version below. I think that somewhere a video of the presentation may exist. (By the way, the day seemed to be a smashing success. A lot of work by lots of volunteers — and it showed.)