Business2.0 Misunderstands a Web 2.0 Failure

Business 2.0 has an interesting article about the failure of user driven wikis at the LA Times and some other high profile websites.

And eighteen months ago, the L.A. Times started a Wiki to open up its editorial page content to user-editing. (Wiki software allows a lot of people to edit the same document simultaneously, as with Wikipedia's encyclopedia entries). In January, Amazon (Charts) launched its "Amapedia" in a bid to create product pages that could one day replace, or at least enhance, Amazon's product descriptions. Penguin opened up its Wiki novel at in February.

But all of these efforts failed, to a greater or lesser extent. The L.A. Times failed spectacularly, as rampant, impassioned, and often obscene vandalism overtook its elegant op-eds. The Amapedia appears stillborn, as Amazon users stick with what they're used to: individual, rather than collaborative, product reviews.

Here is what they think is the problem:

I think it can be boiled down to this: Successful Web 2.0 enterprises are very good at creating accessible walled gardens. Now in the old Web 1.0 days, "walled garden" was a term used to describe a collection of stuff you had to pay for, such as AOL's exclusive subscriber-only content. These days, though, there aren't that many examples of successful closed content business models (newspaper archives and porn sites being the exceptions that prove the rule).

It isn't walled gardens, although they do help. The secret is in individual value. Successful Web 2.0 sites provide value to the individual regardless of crowd participation. is something I use to store bookmarks, and it has value to me even if no one else ever uses it. If others do use it, and they share, then that sharing increases the value. Flickr is the same way. My need to store photos online is independent of the number of users sharing photos on Flickr. But if they do share, well that makes the whole site more valuable. Here's the key –sharing has no value by itself, but is a multiplier of existing value. People don't share for the hell of it. Sharing is about quid pro quo. It's about people who have things of existing value allowing each other to use those things.

Wikis aren't about sharing. Wikis are about simplicity of editing and centrality of information. In a case where random collaboration wouldn't work without a wiki, it's unlikely to work with a wiki. What the LA Times should have realized is that they were giving people an online soapbox. Then they should have asked themselves this question – if we put a bunch of random people in front of a large audience, let them remain anonymous, and let them say whatever they want, would we get a positive result? No? Then don't do the same damn thing online.

Web 2.0 doesn't replace old ways of doing business – it augments them. Those that build core Web 2.0 strategies without any underlying "old business" sense won't be around very long.

  • Rob

    Well, depending on how you define “success,” there may or may not be lots of examples of closed content biz models. It seems to me that the WSJ is pretty successful, and they are closed content, but they also provide something valuable. That’s the key. Flickr has to be open because I wouldn’t pay for the photos of some random person. But I’m willing to share mine quid pro quo.

    Media is all about telling people what they want to hear, and people want to hear that closed content biz models don’t work. I fault the eggheads as much as the journalists.

  • asg

    Well, in informal logic, “the exception that proves the rule” refers to an exception that is so narrowly constructed and tailored that, by implication, it is a rare and specialized case, and therefore the rule is valid. I would agree that the reference quoted in the original post is an abuse of the term, however.

    An alternate sense of “exception that proves the rule” turns on a different sense of “prove” (see

  • David G

    I actually think it’s “none of the above”. The personal utility argument does not really apply to wiki adoption — or at least, it’s not the make-or-break issue it is on some other sites.

    Wiki’s are a very unique form of interactivity that is not suited to authoring all types of content and for that simple reason, these initiatives failed. The art in designing for a web2 audience is to choose the interaction type that best suits the resulting user generated content. e.g. Blogs are for publishers and forums for folks with questions. Y! answers would have been a failure if it were implimented on a blogging platform.

    It’s stupid to expect a crowd to collaborate on an opinion — or on (good) creative writing — or on a product review, which again is just a (creatively written) opinion. Those content types have no meaning in a group-think context. Opinion, by definition, is personal — it’s not and will never be collaborative (without becoming compromise). If you tried to edit my opinion, I’d be furious — what was the LA Times thinking (only the editor is qualified to write an editorial) — a wiki is the exact wrong technology to agregate user-generated editorial content.

    A wiki actually has extremely limited scope in the type of content it’s useful for. Wiki’s are great when trying to compile either comprehensive or neutral content — which is why wikipedia works so well.

    PS — this is not (just) my opinion, these lessons were learnt the hard way.

  • Flickr has to be open because I wouldn’t pay for the photos of some random person. But I’m willing to share mine quid pro quo.