Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A rival to Wikipedia and an open innovation lesson

Here is a story about how a co-founder of Wikipedia is setting up a rival to the online encyclopedia. I've commented before that the example of Wikipedia demonstrates the need for an authority to make a community work.

Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, gets people who are authorities in their fields to write articles. While this ensures that a scholarly view is presented, Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't necessarily contain opposing views outside the mainstream, and the range of topics is more narrow and less timely than is possible with an online open collaboration like Wikipedia.

Wikipedia operates with a minimum of authority. Here's the challenge.
Its openness has also drawn charges of unreliability and left it vulnerable to disputes between people with opposing views, particularly on politically sensitive topics.

The latest venture... is intended to bring more order to this creative chaos by drawing on traditional measures of authority. Though still open to submissions from anyone, the power to authorise articles will be given to editors who can prove their expertise, as well as a group of volunteer "“constables"”, charged with keeping the peace between warring interests.

Accusing Wikipedia of failing to control its writers and editors, he said: "“The latest articles don't represent a consensus view -– they tend to become what the most persistent '‘posters'’ say."”
John Seely Brown, head of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and chief scientist at Xerox, and a colleague, John Hagel, an alumnus of McKinsey's Silicon Valley office, make a lot of sense on this issue.
Intriguingly promising are "networks of creation" (or "creation nets"), where hundreds and even thousands of participants from diverse institutional settings collaborate to create new knowledge, to learn from one another, and to appropriate and build on one another's work... These diverse participants often work in parallel and then fight and learn among themselves when the time comes to integrate their individual efforts into a broader offering.

Mobilizing such a range of participants requires a precise set of institutional mechanisms to make clear who assembles the network, who can participate in it, how disputes will be resolved, and how performance will be measured. Creation nets thus begin with a network organizer, in the role of gatekeeper.
Otherwise open collaboration just turns to anarchy. But as Wikipedia demonstrates, the balance between openness and authority isn't easy.

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