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Concerns of corporate control are inevitable where the exchange of information is involved. But wikis may be more naturally resistant to commercial co-option than other technologies because they empower the individual to have the last word--literally.
"Wikis respect the user and leave a lot open to the user, and to the community to self-organize," Wales said. "The basic thing I think makes it work is turning from a model of permissions to a model of accountability. It isn't that you are allowed or not allowed to edit a certain thing; it's when you do it, that change is recorded, and if it's bad, people can see that."
This transparent history of every change is one of the most important features that distinguish wikis from other forms of instant updates and community, such as blogs, because wikis are seen as much more open-ended and participatory.
For example, it is simple to look at the Wikinews package on the London bombing and see links for every single update made to the original article. Anyone who wants to see how the article evolved--from an original flash about an explosion at the Liverpool Street station to the final comprehensive package--can see each of the hundreds of changes along the way, as well as who made them and when.
The same is true for most everything that is written using any wiki software. Ultimately, wikis offer readers something that no other technology has offered before: a single, infinitely editable source for information.
"It has to be something like this if you're going to allow this kind of collaboration," said Nathan Reed, a 27-year-old Wikinews administrator.
While blogs, newsgroups or e-mail lists also can keep people informed of recent events and available resources, none of these alternatives have the ability to present the very latest information--and nothing but the latest information--in a single place.
"It was helpful for people because it cut across organizational boundaries," said Kline of KatrinaHelp.info. "Wikis allow total flexibility. The Red Cross is very vital, but they're only one organization. We could serve as a clearinghouse or a jumping-off point for thousands of resources."
Even those from the journalism establishment acknowledge such advantages over traditional media outlets. Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review, said his organization also assembled a wiki in the hopes of aggregating crucial information after Katrina struck.
"It seemed that a wiki was the right way to do this because so many of our readers are connected to so many different sources," he said. "It made sense to throw (this) open and let them do all that aggregation. It's better than assigning a single reporter or even a team of reporters to do that work."
Tomorrow: 'Tagging' makes the Web human