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Chris Taylor of Business 2.0 takes a look at why experiments like the LA Times Wikitorial, A Million Penguins book project, and Amazon’s Amapedia product review wiki haven’t become the major successes their creators had hoped they would be. (In Amapedia’s case, it’s only been around a short time, and may take more time to catch on — I’m still going to watch this one a bit longer. Amazon’s more traditional review system has been around so long and is so prominent on product pages that the lack of use of Amapedia may also have more to do with people not knowing about Amapedia than flatly rejecting it.)
Taylor argues that the problem with these experiments is they rely on getting input from a heterogeneous community, one without a common binding element. He suggests that a better way to go would be to construct a more focused community — a political editorial, for instance, that’s edited by Barack Obama supporters, or a book about fishing written by fishing enthusiasts. The idea is that a community with a common focus is more likely to produce a cohesive product that’s not a mish-mash of unrelated topics.

The Wikipatterns Community

A good example of this is the Wikipatterns community. In four months, 206 people have joined — some have read, some have edited, and all have an interest in using the wiki in organizations. That last part is what’s perhaps most important — although the topic of wiki patterns could be called niche — focusing on that niche is what attracted people to the site and the content inside. (This is an example of Wired editor Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory in action, and it wouldn’t be as successful in the traditional model where products must appeal to a massive audience to be considered successful.)
Successful wiki communities need focus and a common goal to attract the right people, and the brilliant simplicity of the wiki to build, nurture, and grow their shared knowledge.
Here’s some further reading on creating a successful community around a specific topic:

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