Dear Michael Kinsley,
Wikitorials were supposed to provide an opportunity for the readers to engage with LA Times Editorial Content. And they did.
Over 400 people engaged in the wiki (a group-editable website), held
conversations and began to create a community around LA Times content.
Participants even took a bad idea, opening a finished viewpoint to
editing after the fact, and turned it into a good idea -- making room
for participants to offer counterpoints.
But instead of wikitorials, you got shreditorials and the site was taken down.
Vandalism happens and the wiki form is especially susceptible to these
problems. Shutting the wiki down immediately took away the greatest
weapon that wikis have to fight vandalism: its users.
Devoted users take care of their wikis. If you had left the Wikitorial up, users could have grown to love and appreciate the community you were creating. Given guidance and time, vandalism disappears, as if by magic, but actually by the work of a handful of devoted users who care about what happens to the common resource they help create.
Some relatively simple technical measures would have reduced both the chance and the impact of vandalism. Editorials don't need to have pictures in them; that feature can come out of the system. The built-in "Recent Changes" and "Watchlist" features allows users to track changes that are inappropriate and simply revert back to a previous version of the page, leaving the collectively built opinion intact. Additional measures such as requiring registration with clear policies for participation could be employed to enable the LA Times to open the community with reasonable measures of control.
We sought membership in a community you opened. We co-invested
ourselves in creating a new resource and would have defended it over
time. We would still like to engage with you to foster this community.
Trust, engage and foster our community and you may find that
participatory media can revive your business model and role in the
Just as the one wikified editorial called for a plan of action, we ask the Editorial Board to respond with a plan for a social contract. This social contract should embody:
- A timeline for opening the community
- A clear policy for when, if ever, the community will be shut down again
- Clarification of appropriate participation and guidelines to be enforced by the LA Times and the community
- An approach for content licensing that fosters collective contribution, such as the Creative Commons Non-commercial Attribution license.
- A restated vision for the community to follow.
Wiki-based communities are not made of software, they are made of people. Let us discover our own power to participate together.
UPDATE: Michael Kinsley is a guest of Open Source Radio this Wednesday night