Web 2.0 is a cultivation business

Business 2.0 makes an observation I find painfully obvious, but that evidently more people need to hear:

Why commercial outfits can’t get Wikis to work – Feb. 21, 2007

By tirelessly nurturing their specific communities, not by randomly “crowdsourcing,” Wales, Butterfield, Fake and their ilk encourage responsible gardening. Wiki novels, Wiki op-eds, a Wiki Amazon: these are concepts too large, too uncontrolled, too wilderness-like – too unwalled – to be gardens. Either nothing grows at all there, or the good ideas get strangled by weeds.

The future of Web 2.0 belongs to sites that give its users directions and goals as well as total control. People need a common focus, a shared obsession, to be productive as a crowd. (My favorite recent example: the Lostpedia, a Wikipedia-like site created by fans of the ABC series Lost who are all trying to figure out what the heck is going on, and sharing their notes).

I’ve always thought web sites were more like gardens than buildings, at least in how their ‘creators’ should approach them. But Web 2.0 makes this triply so.

The technology doesn’t have an inherent value, and a wiki isn’t a handful of magic beans that you just toss onto a web server and watch them grow. It takes planning, cultivation, direction. “Tireless” is right … and “nurturing” is essential.

What we’re seeing, really, is that wikis work best when there is a shared context of need — a “Community of Practice” — which makes sense, because that’s why the first wiki was created. (Ward Cunningham whipped it up so his team could collaborate on a pattern repository.) It’s in the DNA of “wikiness” that it best serves focused effort by similarly obsessed people. While Wikipedia might cover every subject under the sun, the shared obsession is to *document* everything under the sun. And that requires a highly structured, designed environment, and lots of attention for tending and cultivation.