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Wikipedia inspires fight against disease, newspaper "wikitorials"

'Wikitorials' to appear at the LA Times

The LA Times this week announced that its online editorials will shortly be editable by readers via wiki software [1]. The so-called 'wikitorials' will be introduced as part of a larger shake-up of editorial policy at the paper, with the aim of generating greater reader involvement in the paper.

Wikitorials, inspired by Wikipedia, will initially involve selected editorials, and the newspaper's staff suspect the results may be unpredictable. Editorial page editor Andrés Martinez said "We don't know how this is going to turn out. It's all about finding new ways to allow readers to interact with us in the age of the Web". One former bureau chief of the paper described the idea as "absolutely crazy" [2].

The details of how wikitorials will work have yet to be described in detail, and commentators speculated that the paper would have trouble preventing edit wars without a predetermined point of view for an editorial to work towards expressing [3].

'Breathtaking' Wikipedia

An article in Business Week this week looked at the power of the mob on the Internet, as a study showed that over 15% of Americans have contributed material to the Internet [4]. Blogs, wikis and the open source movement are all challenging the traditional dominance of proprietary software and content, and the article described Wikipedia as "the most breathtaking example" of this phenomenon.

The article quoted figures of 5 million visitors a month to the project, and noted that the current total of about 1.5 million articles in 200 languages far exceeds Encyclopædia Britannica's total of 120,000. Business Week described the quality of Wikipedia's volunteer-produced content as "surprisingly high". Wikimedia Foundation president Jimmy Wales was quoted as saying "Our work shows how quickly a traditional proprietary product can be overtaken by an open alternative", but a Britannica spokesman claimed that the sheer volume of Wikipedia articles may be too much information for most readers, and said nothing about quality.

Wikipedia to save the world

The threat of a pandemic has been much in the news recently, with the scare of the SARS virus in 2003 being followed by ongoing concerns that avian influenza, which has devastated chicken stocks in Southeast Asia, might mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans.

Having noted the wide readership of Wikipedia's article on the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Dr Lucas Gonzalez from the Canary Islands decided to use the Wikipedia article on the 'bird flu' as a platform to educate the public and possibly aid in the prevention of a pandemic. Editing as User:Lugon, Dr Gonzalez has been working on the article since 1 June, and his efforts were reported earlier this week by blogger Stephen O'Grady [5]. O'Grady said it was "great to see" easy-to-use wikis allowing experts in disciplines other than technology to contribute to international collaborative projects.

Wiki pros and cons

Search engine news outlet this week reported on the best and worst of Wikipedia, and concluded that the best and worst feature are the very same thing — namely, the fact that it's a free-content encyclopaedia that anyone can edit [6]. A blog on the site provided a link to the unfortunate (from a PR point of view) lamest edit wars ever page, and offered its own favourites from the edit war archives. Making the grade included one edit war in which the participants were blocked for 30 seconds as a suitably lame punishment for a lame edit war, and the edit wars over which edit wars should even be on the edit wars page.


Global Politician magazine this week demonstrated that citing your sources enhances Wikipedia's credibility, as an article on the ethnic heritage of Palestinians quoted from Wikipedia's article, and listed in turn the academic journals which had been cited there [7]; the Kansas City Star used the article on goatees to demonstrate that they were a fashion faux pas these days [8]; Bella online examined the history of the barcode [9]; and Peruvian emergency service news website wondered why the US is reluctant to use the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 'waterbomber' plane to fight forest fires.

Also this week: ServersAppleFeature removalESA meetingPress coverageSyntaxT.R.O.L.L.

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More coverage since we published about the doctor using Wikipedia to fight influenza: WorldChanging and Boing Boing. --Michael Snow 16:19, 20 Jun 2005 (UTC)


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