Could Community Wikis be the Tipping Point?

    March 6, 2006

At the New Communications Forum last week, pretty much everybody agreed that blogs were no fad, but wikis evoked a less enthusiastic response.

Some conference participants shrugged them off as too technical and complex for the average user. Even Wikipedia is revised most frequently by a relatively small group of regulars.

Nobody argues that wikis make it easier to generate web content than working in HTML or a web authoring app like Dreamweaver. All that’s missing from wikis to get people using them is real motivation. A company called Wetpaint just may have found that motivation.

If you own a dog, odds are you love that dog. (Mine’s name is Sasha. She’s a shepherd mix who is as dumb as a post and the sweetest creature alive.) People who are passionate about dogs are likely to take that last step into wikis in order to contribute to WikiFido one of the community wikis Wetpaint has created. Here, you can add your $.02 to community-written topics like becoming a dog owner, dog breeds, puppy training, taking care of Fido and a list of dog resources. You can also add your dog’s picture to the “My Dog is Cuter than Your Dog” or “Ugliest Dog” pages.

WikiFido is just one of the wikis Wetpaint has set up. According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, Wetpaint’s other wikis cover cancer, the XBox 360, Democrats, Republicans, and bird flu. According to the article, the venture capital-backed company operates under a principle that will be familiar to blog readers:

The most important concept behind Wetpaint is the idea that groups of people working together and sharing information can create more compelling online content than individuals. In other words, two dozen poodle owners will have more interesting things to say than just one. Wetpaint dubs this the “collective wisdom of crowds.”

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if WikiFido takes off. I would think the XBox and cancer wikis would also have great chances for success, given the numbers of people with intense interest in the topic and the belief that they have knowledge to share.

My only regret is that a startup came up with these ideas instead of a company. Why shouldn’t Purina have created WikiFido? Why couldn’t Merck establish WikiCancer? Sadly, the answer is obvious: The leaders of these organizations are too busy fretting about the potential risks new media poses-or dismissing wikis as a fad or too technical-instead of innovating uses that are low risk and have the potential for high value.

Now it’s just a matter of seeing if wikis targeting topics about which individuals have passion is enough to nudge them over the technical hurdles and get them engaged. I’m betting it will.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.