Wikipedia 3.0: You can now edit any page on Mahalo

The most powerful feature of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit any page at any time. This feature has allowed everyone to get involved, even if their contribution is bad. The brilliance of this move is that the bad editors grow to be poor editors, and then poor editors then become average editors, and over some period of time some small percentage of the bad, poor, and average editors become great.

Over an extended period of time Wikipedia has grown to have 500 or so amazing editors. It took eight years, or 60 or so folks a year, but they did it. They converted one editor per week essentially.

Guy Kawasaki joked with me a decade ago that he was famous for doing nothing and for saying obvious things. Self deprecation is always attractive to me, and despite the fact that Guy really has never had a “hit,” he’s picked up some brilliant observations over his years as a self-described undeserving pundit. The most powerful of which is his famous quip: “don’t worry be crappy.”

Wikipedia is the perfect example of a site which doesn’t worry about being crappy, but rather its ability to evolve. They’ve let folks destroy their accuracy and reputation in the hopes that the increased interaction will be a net positive in the future… and it has. Of course, BLPs (bios of living persons) wind up suffering in that “crappy” state while the Wikipedia evolves, but that’s the price of a freewheeling system: some pain, but a lot of gain.

I’ve been very resistant to letting user run amok inside of Mahalo over the first twelve months we’ve been around. As a journalist and writer myself I’m kind of a fan of good grammar, spelling, and factually accurate information. Call me crazy, but when I see a mistake it makes me go a little crazy. Then again, I’m old now (37) and these new kids aren’t as hung up on the whole “fact checking” thing.

A a month or so ago I had a huge political figure by my office and I was showing him how Wikipedia works. I change his nationality from Irish-American to Greek-American and he was stunned that the vandalism stayed up there for so long (five days). Of course, I had to change it back… so it’s possible that it could have stayed there for a month or a year.

Now that Mahalo has 50,000 pages (5x what we set out to do in the first year), and 400 paid contributors (4x what we thought we would have in the first year), we’ve decided to let folks edit Mahalo pages (see image on right).

Now, it’s not going to be as freewheeling as Wikipedia day one. We’ve got three major differences:

  1. You have to register and be logged in to edit a Guide Note. This is a major throttle on people contributing since the signup process takes a couple of minutes and an email address.
  2. Our staff is going to check every edit made and confirm it is correct. We have three full-time folks on this right now and our expectation is we will only get 10-50 editors per day.
  3. You can edit your own pages, or a page about your company. Our thinking is since we’re checking all the facts that’s an OK thing to do. (Wikipedia does not let you edit your own page).

If this goes well, then you can expect us to remove throttle number one. I’m interested to see where this goes.

Oh yeah, if you haven’t noticed we’ve updated 15,000 of our pages to have long Guide Notes that are super easy to scan. Think of them as mini-Wikipedia articles with just facts. They are 300 words compared to Wikipedia pages with 1,000 to 5,000 words.

Of the 50,000 pages in the system we’ve got 60-70% to this new standard. Over the next six weeks we should have 100% of our articles to the long guide note standard. This is the goal of the company: to help you navigate the web quickly and accurately. We’re a mashup of Wikipedia and Google: 50% content/facts and 50% curated links.

Fred Wilson’s partner Brad implored me to open up Mahalo when I pitched Union Square on the rough concept of what has become Mahalo. I told him no frackin’ way, but my thinking has evolved. My thinking today is that you can blend the paid, top-down editorial model with the unpaid, open model–time will tell if we’re right.

Chris Anderson of WIRED magazine spoke at Mahalo yesterday and he told me I needed to re-brand Mahalo from “human-powered search” to something else. Anyone have a suggestion as to a better way to described’s 50-50 editorial/navigation service?

Note: You can watch user activity on Mahalo at our User Activity tracker. This is the same DashBoard our staff watches.

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