Newspaper as Wiki, by Information Architects

Oliver Reichenstein heads up an outfit in Japan, with an outpost in Switzerland, called Information Architects (iA). Matt Gerber is iA’s information designer. They’ve done a lot of innovative branding work, and a lot of innovative thinking about the future of news, and especially about “newspapers as wikis. ” Their entire “about us” reads:

Brands are interfaces. Successful brands perform and evolve in a controlled, interactive process with their audience. Performance empowers the brand.

iA plans, builds, and manages interactive brands by continuously measuring and optimizing the performance of their user interfaces.

iA’s offices in Tokyo and Zürich serve clients from Japan, Germany and Switzerland.

Follow their thinking about news and newspapers in this sequence:

From March 2007, “The Future of News: How to Survive the New Media Shift,” an endorsement of the wikipedia approach to news publishing (which I’ve endorsed, urged and elaborated on previously):

The making of a news article must become a public process. This will greatly increase the quality and the trust in published text. The integration of social media into the writing process is a greatest opportunity for writers and readers since the invention of the press; the more intelligent the readership of a newspaper the more intelligent the product will become.

Wikipedia proves that it works. The only question is: Which newspaper will allow their readers to participate in the writing an editorial process first. Participating means: You let them influence the article from the beginning to the end—and beyond. Future newspapers will allow their readers to influence the article before and after it is published. The only way to do this is by turning the newspaper web sites into transparent public editorial tools.

Also in March 2007, iA posted “10 Newspaper Myths Deconstructed,” including:

Myth 10: Newspapers need to become social networks
Fact 10: Newspapers need to become Wikis

Newspaper readers are not friends. Good readers are supposed to be critical about each other and not pat each other’s backs. There is a much more obvious technological model for newspapers.

I believe that newspapers need to make the development of a story transparent, they need to cross link and cross reference articles, they need to allow users to write articles and collectively correct each other’s mistakes and they need to become at least as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Got it? Yes, newspapers should use Wiki technology. There is a lot to improve on the front end, but the content generation and optimization model is an almost perfect fit.

Then in April 2007, hinting that they had a customer interested in the wiki notion, they posted “Washington Post Redesign as a Wiki, ” to answer questions beginning with “What does a newspaper as a wiki look like?” (The customer was not the Post.) Have a look at the graphics illustrating their thoughts.

Shortly thereafter appeared “Newspaper Wiki: Schematics,” a Q&A on how iA sees the “newspaper as wiki” working. It includes a graphic illustrating a “wiki-based editing process,”

Finally, in June 2008, iA unveiled Newsnetz, which “joins the forces of major Swiss newspapers and a series of local Swiss papers to become the country’s leading news domain in terms of reach, traffic, editorial size, and production.” With Newsnetz, they’ve put into practice their development of the “newspaper as a wiki.” Again, look at the post for extensive graphics showing the sites before and after, and how the design was done. The sites themselves are now live, they’re Tages Anzeiger, Berner Zeitung, and BazOnline. (Keep in mind that at this point, I believe the wikification is behind the scenes in the content management system, and apparently has not yet reached the stage where readers can join the process. But perhaps a reader of German can explore those sites better than me and explain how the reader might interface with them, wiki-like.)

There’s a lot more to digest at iA, including many comments from visitors and responses from iA to the comments. Well worth spending some time with.