We marvelled when we saw the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica usurped by Microsoft’s Encarta. It was a tribute to the clever utilization of multimedia and excellent marketing that leveraged Microsoft’s position in the software world. Given Microsoft’s incredible resources and market clout, it was assumed that the Encarta franchise would build and thrive to become the most heavily utilized fact resource. Therefore, it was even more shocking when Wikipedia burst onto the scene in 2001. And it’s continued evolution demonstrates that this project is no fluke. There are over 1.5 million articles and there are over 100 international versions. How is this possible? Is it simply because it is a free reference resource? I do not think so. Average consumers seem to have voted for breadth and currency over authority. More importantly, a large group of contributors and reviewers seem to feel a pride of ownership in the work of their collaboration. This phenomena has interesting implications for publishing firms.

Wikimedia now has a number of related projects including Wikibooks and Wikiversity. Wikibooks has generated 23,476 content modules for over 1000 topics in less than three years. Wikiversity is in its formative stages but plans to offer free course materials and may provide a platform for developing research topics into wikimongraphs.

It is sometimes difficult to get past the fact that all Wikimedia content is free to focus upon the powerful authoring metaphor that they have created and proliferated. These very same techniques could be used by commercial and corporate publishers. All School, College, and Professional publishers could use these techniques to refine and improve the quality of their publications. These techniques could enable publishers to keep their intellectual property much more current than is possible with today’s authoring approach. And the collaboration aspect could help learners and professionals grow by exchanging and debating ideas. In the corporate world, we need look no further than the communities established around Microsoft Sharepoint to see how valuable information can be rapidly developed and disseminated. These communities have relieved Microsoft of a tremendous support burden.

The Wiki modules are quite similar to open source code modules… More on this in a subsequent post…. Your comments are encouraged!!