Why I use Wikipedia to follow major news events like the Samoa earthquake and tsunami

It’s worth taking a look at the Wikipedia entry regarding yesterday’s earthquake and resulting tsunami in the south Pacific.
As some people know, I am in awe of Wikipedia and its underlying technology, culture, community and practices. (That’s another post for another day.)

This post, however, is just a suggestion: Watch that entry throughout the day for a display of a new form of journalism in which the invisible hands of editors are turning a flood of incoming data into what will become, over time, the most visited page on the internet regarding this event.

If you forget what you think you know about Wikipedia and study this entry, you’ll see a resource in which every fact is cited by a link to its source (gee, what I’d give for such citation in a typical AP story). You will see news writing that eschews narrative and anecdote for timeline and statistics.

And talk about link-jounalism. A story like this, one that involves facts about geology and geography and science and politics, presents the need to link to resources found on all corners of the internet. Because Wikipedia is built on such links, nearly every sentence on the entry has multiple links to other entries on Wikipedia. And in the “Reference section (where citation links appear)” and the “External links” section, you’ll already find dozens of links to news stories, aid organizations and local resources.

Because the Wikipedia (and Mediawiki) community of extension and template developers have been practicing their craft for so long, there are pre-existing tables and charts (and processes and practices for their usage) that as soon as the event occurred, a page appeared that is recognizable to those who have ever seen a page that chronicles a similar event.

Less than 24-hours later, the entry has been translated into nine different languages (and counting).

The entry is written for someone who is desperate to get information in real-time — it has an exhaustive list of out-bound links to news-sources that will likely be edited out later — as well as future historians, writers, researchers, students and others who will be seeking information about the event in years to come.

There is so much to learn from this entry on Wikipedia.

Most major news-oriented websites have spent years trying to replicate online what story-telling is in print or broadcast. Even blogs do that.

During that same time, Wikipedia has shown us a different way — perhaps one that points to a better way for the web.

I promise: There’s so much more to Wikipedia than you can ever imagine.

Encyclopedia Britannica gets wikified – Britannapedia?

From the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em department,” Encyclopedia Britannica has announced a “new initiative to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers. Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopaedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors.”

If that sounds a little like Wikipedia, well, it is. But in, what, Britannapedia?, Wikitannica?, company editors will approve what user-created articles, essays and multimedia presentations get added to the site. Another difference: The announcement says, “contributors to the site will still retain “control” of their work,” which implies the site will not have the “open” re-use rights granted by Wikipedia.


“Readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names. Interested users will be able to prepare articles, essays, and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they’re interested. Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain control of his or her own work.”

I hope Google Sites will help people “get” wikis

BusinessWeek’s Rob Hof is reporting that Google is launching a new “app” tonight called Google Sites. As I write this, it is not yet live, however, according to Rob, it uses the “Jotspot” wiki platform Google acquired in late 2006. Previously, it has been reported that Google Sites will replace another Google App called Google Page Creator which is currently be used by a grand total of 23 people — all employees of Google. (But don’t quote me on that.)

There are already several great free, easy-to-use, wiki-apps available, but I still find that most people I know in the real world (i.e., people who don’t read this blog), have no idea what a “wiki” is beyond the website Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that uses a wiki platform and approaches. But thinking that all wikis are encyclopedias is a bit like thinking all books are encyclopedias.)

Maybe repositioning Jotspot as “Google Sites” will help people get over their aversion, fear or misunderstanding of what wikis can be.

I’ve been “hosting” the wiki SmallBusiness.com for almost two years and my appreciation of the read/write approach, the communities they foster and the versatility of the platform grows continuously.

About six months ago, I finally realized (in a duh moment) how much working on a wiki reminded me of using Hypercard, the Mac program from 1980s that was my first hands-on involvement with “hypermedia.” The little program — and it was little — used the metaphor of a stack of blank cards on which you could write anything and connect words (link) them to text on other cards: hypertext. It was a very simple concept to understand and, more importantly, the only programming necessary was the ability to type and link. I credit using it as a way to organize notes on my Mac with why I found it so easy to grasp immediately what the web was about.

It didn’t surprise me later when I ran across some interviews in which the creator of the wiki concept, Ward Cunningham, said he conceived of it first as a web equivalent of Hypercard.

It will be interesting to see if Google can help a more general audience grasp what they can do when they break away from thinking a wiki is “Wikipedia” and realize it’s just an endless stack of blank pages that you can use to organize a bake sale — or create your own company’s encyclopedia. Or anything in-between.

Later: Allen Stern (CenterNeworks) says he “hopes people never get caught up on lingo – as long as it does what they need it to, who cares what it’s called.” While I agree that it’s more important for people to use it than know what it’s called, I think a tech platform can go mainstream quicker if those who provide alternative services that do the same thing can at least all agree what to call the platform category. I can remember when companies were launching blogging platforms right- and left, but calling them things like “spaces” and “web journals.” We have a category name for e-mail. We have a category name for spread-sheets. (I could go on, but you get my drift.) Why shouldn’t the same be true for the category of wiki creation applications.

Thursday morning: Google luanched sites overnight with this explanatory video. Allen will be happy. The word “wiki” is never mentioned: