Nick James blog: WikipediaBy Nick James
December 16, 2009
Anyone who runs a website for business purposes knows the importance of well written, accurate content in creating the right impression of a company and the goods and services it provides.
However, writing top quality, interesting and informative copy isn’t that easy, and hiring copy-writers and editors to do the job can be very expensive indeed.
Up until quite recently the Internet phenomenon that is Wikipedia didn’t have this problem.
They had a world wide base of more than three million interested and helpful people prepared to provide heaps of content, and edit that of others, all for free.
Yet in the first months of this year the famous online encyclopaedia has reportedly lost around 49,000 of its volunteer contributors, approximately 44,000 more than during the same period last year.
Ironically it seems to be new rules imposed to improve the accuracy of the site’s content that has caused this sudden drop in support.
As the foundation behind this great online experiment seeks out more expertise to provide higher standards, the stringent editing processes faced by many former amateur contributors has taken much of the fun out of the process.
The idea behind Wikipedia was truly inspirational. It was envisaged as a free online learning re-source, an encyclopaedia for the people by the people, and written in all the world’s most prominent languages.
It has been incredibly successful. At one point there were over 10,000 new editors for the English language section of Wikipedia getting involved in the project every month.
But now, according to reports, two opposing factions have formed within the volunteer base; those who think it’s important to include topics that may be quirky but are none the less interest-ing, and others who would prefer the resource to be far more academic.
Wikipedia is a unique concept, but its present difficulties highlights one of the most important aspects involved in running any successful website.
From the outset any organisation or business seeking to promote itself online must not only con-sider its main objectives for creating the site, but also its online ‘persona’.
A ‘voice’ must be created which permeates throughout the content; one which is suited to the tar-get audience and which doesn’t deviate as the visitor navigates the pages.
Consistency is of paramount importance when it comes to online content, because disparity of style and tone will not promote trust.
What we are witnessing now at Wikipedia is the struggle for the ‘persona’ of the site.
If the more formal approach is favoured it could well become more in line with a traditional ency-clopaedia, rather than the remarkable jumble of the serious and bizarre that we see today.
If stringent moderation and rigorous editing of content by dedicated experts becomes the norm, then undoubtedly the site will become more reliable, because all facts will have to be referenced.
Conversely, if new contributors and editors are deterred because of formidable bureaucracy, much of the humour, spontaneity and flair that is at present synonymous with the site will be lost.
Wikipedia isn’t a corporate concern, it’s kept active through financial donations and volunteers and it is still rated as one of the world’s most frequently visited websites.
Much of its popularity has come from the fact that some bright spark has contributed an entry on practically anything you can think of with varying degrees of accuracy, and visitors to the site were well aware of this.
The challenge that Wikipedia now faces is to ensure that its move towards factual accuracy in-spires the full confidence of its users, because however well they are written, mixed messages don’t work.