Duiki.com and the making of “Wiki” Media

I began Duiki.com all the way back in the summer of 2006. Right now, Duiki has about 300 legitimate articles, of which only about 30 are really unique and substantial. These 30 articles provide the bulk of the use and interest in Duiki, and drive its continuing place at the university. They mostly deal with things of interest to those outside of Duke however, or matters of technical interest to members of the engineering department. But that’s all review. What is a wiki anyway? How do they work and how can they be used in the next newsroom? First, I want to talk a little bit about what a wiki is, then about successful and failed wiki concepts, and finally two things we know about how wikis work and how they might play an important role in the future of media.

Everyone these days has their own personal blog. They write down everyday activities, things they do, places they go. But how about the community and institutions which surround them? Imagine Duiki as sort of a “blog” for Duke University. A place for sharing, listening, learning, growing and exploring. Anyone can edit Duiki. Anyone can contribute, change, and add. Most websites you go to are static — you only read them. Duiki is a very different place. Like other community wikis, which are internet creations placed on top of real social institutions, Duiki is an experiment in community and a project that can be fruitful for years to come to both old and new at Duke University.

I have always been inspired by the concept of a wiki – because it is a website which can provide responsive, instantaneous, and quality content at a fraction of the cost and time of a conventional media source. In my hometown of Davis, California, the wiki there really took off. People use it as an extension of their real everyday lives and conversations. It is a community bulletin board and a center and source of information, knowledge, and news.

The newsroom of the future will need to tap into the incredible possibilities wikis provide. But it will need to understand this medium before applying it. The LA Times tried it, creating something they called “Wikitorial” a few years ago – basically allowing a collaborative community to re-write the staff editorial each day. The project lasted I think three days before vandals and hooligans ultimately forced its termination. Yet, if everyone agrees this was a good idea, why did it fail so spectacularly?

The fundamental place to start with a wiki is the 90:10:1 rule. 90% of people find the content useful, 10% may edit the grammar or change a word or two, but only less than 1% have the chutzpah to go in and really change the content of a wiki. But plenty of people find it enjoyable to mess things up if they know someone is watching. So wikis are ripe for vandalism when the individual content is thought to be important. You say, make a single page or article editable, and it will be a constant tug of war for control from vandals. So, wikis must focus on dispersed information, not specifics. The wiki must be for *all* the stories, all of the facts – not just the feature – if it is to be successful. In fact, the more important the individual page, the more difficult to keep it safe. Thus, the Main Page on Wikipedia is uneditable.

Yet, wikis are great for getting facts out in the open. They can be edited anonymously. They can bring together more perspectives than any one reporter could find. After September 11th a wiki was started about the day and the attacks. When thousands of eyes capture an image and work together to reconstruct it, you find a degree of clarity that cannot be found through the lenses of a single camera or the pen of a single reporter. They found that to be true in this case, learning things were connected that had not been thought connected before, successfully reconstructing and altering the timeline of important events that day. Wikis provide that sort of thoroughness, and will come in most useful when they are tapped to provide that sort of information. Duiki straddles the line between a wiki for media, and a wiki as a repository, and it is in that final capacity that I want to close. Duiki is a media source insofar as we provide information, and we can spin the facts and figures, and opine, etc. But Duiki is most useful for its use as a collection of facts which are hard to find. Wikis can work best when they allow users to discover the little-known, the interesting and odd, or the erudite.

Newspapers are concerned these days with getting all the facts as plainly as possible – who, what, when, where, and why. Wikis are more contemplative, and it is in this capacity that they could take us back to a time when news was more of a conversation than a sound-byte. Wikis will tell you who did something, but also comment on the ongoing debate about that person’s contribution, along with little-known figures who also helped, and a rich and full biography of the person about whom the article is written. This level of depth is what Wikis can provide and how they can fix media. The editorial could say “senator x voted against the resolution and we disagree” whereas the wiki would point out all of the various reasons and sides of the argument and note that “senator x was for it before he was against it”.

Wiki functionality will serve an important role in the media to come, and I have outlined here only two ways that it can work. However, nobody seems to have it perfect yet and there are lots of avenues left to explore. I look forward to seeing how the next newsroom integrates this technology in the years to come.


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