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 amillionpenguins.com 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. Del.icio.us 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.