Following posts about two leading commercial content providers with a combined market value of over $100 Billion, today I’m adding Wikipedia to the 50 Content Companies that Matter.
Technically, Wikipedia is not a company; it’s maintained and hosted by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, led by founder Jimmy Wales. The Wikipedia site was launched in 2001 with a handful of contributors. Today, more than 13,000 active contributors maintain more than 1.8 million articles in over 100 languages. Wikipedia is a top 50 web destination, receiving more than 800 million hits per day.
Wikipedia is clearly the most successful example of applying open source to content. Contributions are owned by their creators, but all content may be freely distributed and reproduced.
There are many debates about wikis. By definition, there are no editors who determine whether the content of a wiki is valid. It is only the other wiki readers and contributors who help ensure that incorrect information or misinformation is corrected. However, in the spirit of the “Wisdom of Crowds”, the wiki community tends to do a great job on identifying and removing inappropriate materials and even in negotiating compromises in definitions among competing voices. Looking at any controversial topic – homosexuality, intelligent design, etc., you will see that reasonable and fair coverage is provided to various opinions on an issue.
Where wikis have shined recently is in their coverage of breaking news stories. Wikipedia coverage of the Asian Tsunamis and the recent London bombings have been more up to date and comprehensive than much of the broadcast news coverage.
The most compelling aspect of wikis is their involvement of contributors. This is a dedicated community of users, much like the Well or Pipeline users in the early days of the Internet. While switching costs between news feeds or browsers are low for users, participation in such a community creates strong bonds.
For content providers, the concept of a wiki approach becomes compelling. The investment a user makes in participating in the process completely changes the relationship between provider and user. Whether it’s restaurant reviews in Zagat, book reviews on Amazon, or sharing highly technical knowledge within a segment of biology on Wikipedia, those users are investing their time and effort into making the product better. In many ways that feedback mechanism is what makes web publishing uniquely different than traditional publishing. While it may seem unnatural for publishers to cede some control to users, those who find a model to do so will be rewarded with a loyal and enthusiastic customer base.
P.S. For those of you who find Wikipedia a useful tool, you may wish to contribute to its current fund drive, the proceeds of which will be used to pay for hardware to support the system.