I asked Pat Lazure, co-founder of the wiki journalism project WikiCity Guides, to tell me more about his experiences with the project. This is what he said:
Key Factors Driving Citizen Journalism
There has been a lot written about citizen and crowd-sourced journalism, and to this end, several entrepreneurs and creative folks have aggressively explored the widening opportunities within this space. I could write a chapter on why this is happening but instead, boiling it all down, there are two key factors driving these opportunities:
(i.) Reduced barriers to entry: The cost and technical skills required to publish content continue to drop.
(ii.) Technical advancements in advertising: Advertising revenue has been the lifeblood of media ever since the advent of the penny press in the 1830’s. However, the proliferation of self-serve and pay-for-performance ad schemes (CPC, CPM, collective buying platforms, etc.) have left many traditional media models haemorrhaging; thus making them smaller, and thereby creating market opportunities for the citizen journalist.
Journalism – The New Wild West
So for the time being, journalism – in its most loosely defined terms – is now the Wild West. We’ve witnessed the push for hyperlocal, we see thousands of bloggers emerge every day, and we’ve even seen non-profit news organizations emerge. Yet, no single entity claims to offer a convincing, economically viable solution for what’s next. Instead, fragmentation abounds, there’s a lot of clutter, and the rest of us continue to experiment.
WikiCity Guides is one such experiment that I co-founded last year. WikiCity Guides provides local content on places, events, and people who would be of interest to those associated with any of its 22,000 U.S. towns. It serves these communities much like a local blog, yet using the same open source MediaWiki software that powers Wikipedia; any of its readers are allowed to contribute content. By providing town-specific content and other topical resources including local business listings, news, weather, and classified ads, WikiCity Guides allows local users to enhance their town’s pages by adding deep community content that interests them most. With over 13 million pages, WikiCity Guides is now the largest wiki in the world and is located at www.WikiCity.com.
The project itself continues to evolve, and now that much of the site has been built, we are shifting our focus towards growing our audience. Most recently, we launched a partnership with the Wahoo Newspaper, which is located in Wahoo, Nebraska. We’re still fine-tuning the model, but the initial premise was to create a wiki platform that reinforces the newspaper as the hub – not the spoke – for all of the happenings within the community. To this end, the site continues to evolve as a collection of hyperlocal facts, figures, businesses, and opinions that will continue to grow in size and usefulness with each edit. So far the project has been well received, and has generated an incremental 7% monthly page views for the newspaper’s website, albeit within a very small market.
For most publishers, the benefits to offering a community wiki and harnessing wiki journalism may not seem self-evident. However, as the media fragments, a community wiki can serve as one more tool within the publisher’s toolbox to add “stickiness” to their audience, increase page views, and a unique way to create fanatical ownership and loyalty amongst contributing readers.
Looking ahead, the extent to which wiki journalism is embraced by the masses remains to be seen, but some of the barriers to entry continue to fall. Like Wikipedia and so many other wikis, fewer than 5% of visitors actually participate in the editing process. Part of this is due to the not-so-friendly wiki syntax that are inherent to most wikis. Not to fear though… The wiki community has recognized this draw-back and is in the process of introducing its new Usability Initiative, which will help avoid some of the confusion and encourage more users to contribute.
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