My first exposure to wikis was through my workplace. Despite reading a number of Wikipedia entries, I’ve never been remotely bothered to contribute to a wiki outside of work and neither it seems, do most users on the Internet.
Wikipedia states that 50% of all edits are made by 0.7% of users and around 1.8% of users have written more than 72% of all articles.
This 1% rule of contributors to a website also applies to other websites such as Yahoo groups.
The problem with this is that people tend to trust websites that assume a position of editorial authority and integrity. Wikipedia has assumed this role of though the ‘back door’ via Google search results and the ease of cross linking and refering to its content. People, it seems trust wikipedia because its flexible and omnipresent. I wonder just how many people have read a Wikipedia entry without realising it could been written by someone who has very little experience or knowledge of the item they are writing about. Besides, the word wiki means fast – nothing to do with the integrity of the content.
Jimmy Wales (co-founder/founder of wikipedia) recently told students to stay well clear of wikipedia after a number of students failed their grades by sourcing incorrect information via Wikipedia pages.
So what does this mean for wikis? Well who knows, but what is certain is that a growing number of people will start to avoid wikis when they realise the content they provide is neither authoritative nor trustworthy. Much of this problem is about labelling and disclaimers. Should wikis have a disclaimer similar to the health warnings on cigarette packets!? i.e. USING OR SOURCING CONTENT FROM THIS WIKI IS ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK. It sounds like a sign at a dodgy car park doesn’t it. Would you park there?
The BBC is currently looking at a number of ways to improve audience participation with its websites. Wikis are one of the options, we are currently exploring. The BBC is in a rather unique position of having (1) a huge Internet presence and (2) being trusted implicitly for the calibre of the content it supplies. Can wikis encourage greater feedback and contribution to our websites and programmes without degrading our strong reputation and overall brand experience?