How did the open-source journalism experiment work out?

I noted last week that Wired magazine was running an experiment on wiki-based journalism. While a major news reporting agency had succesfully experimented with robots to edit and create news feeds, this magazine decided to test out the wiki idea, and how open-source communities to work together to create a news piece.

Well, the results are out. It seems the idea was not a crazy one after all, even though the final result appeared ‘choppy’ and disjointed to the original author.

At first, people began adding more text and links. Much attention was given to beefing up the admittedly anemic section on wikis around the web that were not Wikipedia. Wiki vendors began adding links to their companies.

and then

One user didn’t like the quotes I used from Ward Cunningham, the father of wiki software, so I instead posted a large portion of my notes from my interview on the site, so the community could choose a better one.

One editor challenged the veracity of a generalization about large companies replacing their entire intranets with wikis, and sent me scurrying to do more reporting, which led me to back off that claim.

and then the real strength of open-source showed through:

Another volunteer editor thought the story needed more information on the use of wikis in classrooms, and suggested I interview educator Vicki Davis. I tried to contact her on Thursday but got no response by e-mail, which I reported back to the wiki.

It turned out my e-mail never reached her. But she learned, through the wiki, that I was looking for her, and contacted me on Saturday. Because I had no time to interview her that day, I suggested she add some information and quotes into the wiki, which she did, and which have remained in the story since then.

Another intrepid editor, Elizabeth Stark, interviewed Jonathan Zittrain, the co-founder of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and added it to the story.

It is clear that the experiment saw some good participation from the wider community

When the experiment closed, Wednesday afternoon, there were 348 edits of the main story, 21 suggested headlines and 39 edits of the discussion pages. Thirty hyperlinks were added to the 20 in the original story, and a sidebar of sorts, called the enumeration page, holds the overflow of information and links that could not fit into the main story.

and what did the original author think:

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.

That said, I’ll be a bit sad today to not to be able to click over to see what new things are happening with our story. My thanks to everyone who contributed to this project.


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