The Village View

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Everyone's an Editor as Wiki Fever Spreads to Shopping Sites

Couldn't pass this one up: an article in my hometown paper on wikis (they may require you to register, but at least it's not TimesSelect content).

Now Amazon.com and the people who built the online advertising pioneer DoubleClick are hoping millions more will wax authoritative about toasters, fondue pots and lawn mowers...ShopWiki.com, developed by two DoubleClick founders, officially introduced its site last week after several months of testing, while Amazon pulled the "beta" tag off its own wiki offering earlier this month (Amazon's ProductWikis — or invitations to write them — are found on product pages below customer reviews).

What's interesting is that I was directed to this article by a co-worker whom I was showing the Apollo wiki (from Socialtext) to yesterday. She hadn't even heard of wikis before, but caught this article on the train ride home; shortly after our meeting.

The article points out that at ShopWiki "initial entries are written not by amateurs but by staff writers." This reminds me of how a lot of open source software companies work. For example, most of the new code for MySQL is developed by in-house (actually a bad word here since they are geographically distributed) developers, i.e., employees. The community i.e., amateurs mostly contribute to bug fixes and the like.

I decided to check out the two shopping wikis mentioned in this article: Shopwiki.com and Amazon's ProductWikis. I went to ShopWiki first.Essentially there are two things you can do here: search for specific products (or product descriptions) or read Wiki Buying Guides. It's just the latter that are in wiki format; searches give you uneditable product information, prices, links to merchants and product reviews.

I clicked on one of the sample Wiki Buying guides: "Road bikes" (I'm thinking about starting to bike to work on the path along the Hudson river from the UWS to the West Village). The majority of edits were done by two users starting back in December. (I'm guessing these are ShopWiki employees) Just in the last two months were there other users editing the page. I clicked on the link under a bike listed in the "Less than $1000" category called the "Specialized Sequoia" in honor of the National Forest where I once worked. Unfortunately, this took me to a Results page with two items: Toyota Sequoia Special for $28,977 and a book titled "The Tree of Time: A Story of a Special Sequoia."
Unfazed, I tried a different bike, the "Salsa La Raza"(hey, I speak Spanish). This time the results were more relevant: 3 Salsa La Raza frames, all under 1000 bucks.

Next, I checked out Amazon's wikis. I did a search on "Chinese" and came across a book with an accompanying "ProductWiki." The information in the wiki, just a couple of lines describing the size and contents of the book, was welcome because Amazon had no description at all beyond the title.

Next, I went to the list of "most edited wikis." Turns out that the wiki page for the "wiki term" Qualitative Research has been edited 97 times, more than any other on Amazon. The book whose ProductWiki was the most edited was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey which had been edited 93 times. It was mostly biographical information on the author; nothing I couldn't get from a thousand different web sites.

My sense is that I would use ShopWiki again if I were looking to purchase something about which I knew very little. I actually like the idea that the original content is mostly created by experts. I think the community will expand on that content and keep them honest. I was less impressed with the Amazon ProductWiki. The little extra bit of factual information given about the author or subject matter isn't that helpful. I'm happy to keep reading the customer reviews on the Da Vinci code book, for example, but if I want the history of the Holy Grail or a bio on Dan Brown, i'll go to that other wiki.

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