The Wikitorial era begins *

The innovation du jour at the Times editorial page is a lead editorial, titled War and Consequences, where readers are invited to go online and improve it. It's accompanied by its own cheeky editorial, A Wiki For Your Thoughts, introducing the wiki concept to Times readers.

Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry? Well, what are you going to do about it? You could send us an e-mail (or even write us a letter, if you can find a stamp). But today you have a new option: Rewrite the editorial yourself, using a Web page known as a "wiki," at latimes.com/wiki.

Wikis are among the newest of the new forms of communication that have emerged on the Web. The simplest explanation of a wiki is that it is a Web page that readers can change. When you go to a wiki, what you see is a page reflecting all the changes made so far. You can also see all the interim versions. Then you can insert or add your own changes. The result is a constantly evolving collaboration among readers in a communal search for truth. Or that's the theory.

It sounds nutty. But the best-known example works bewilderingly well. This is the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia built on the contributions of thousands of readers (plus some minimal supervision from the host site). Readers are also fact checkers.

To be sure, encyclopedias and newspaper editorials are very different literary forms. Contributors to Wikipedia share in some general way a commitment to accuracy. By contrast, strong disagreement is built into the concept of an editorial. Plenty of skeptics are predicting embarrassment; like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip. We acknowledge that possibility.

Nevertheless, we proceed. We're calling this a "public beta," which is a fancy way of saying we're making something available even though we haven't completely figured it out. A better term might be "experiment." We begin with just one wikitorial. Maybe a year from now a link for "wiki this page" will be as common on the Web as "printer-friendly" or "e-mail this article." Or maybe not.

Here's where you can join in. The terms of service ban "vulgar, profane, abusive, racist or hateful language or expressions, epithets or slurs, text, photographs or illustrations in poor taste, inflammatory attacks of a personal, racial or religious nature....[language that is] defamatory, threatening, disparaging, grossly inflammatory, false, misleading, fraudulent, inaccurate, unfair, contains gross exaggeration or unsubstantiated claims, violates the privacy rights of any third party, is unreasonably harmful or offensive to any individual or community." Other than that, have at it.

* Afternoon update: LAVoice.org is following the wiki blow-by-blow, while Editor and Publisher recounts the various pranks that have been tried and quotes Michael Kinsley declaring success: "I'm loving it. I was worried that no one would come...the ratio of assholes to good will people" [has been low]. Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review, endorses the experiment.

In the previous month:
They drive, they ride, etc
Advice for Kinsley
New LAT critiqued
LAT edit page in the news
'Tent' returns, but Cudahy offended
Tentless in Opinion
Visiting fellows at LAT
Kinsley vs. malaria
Shakeup on LAT editorial board


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