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A Wiki for Your Thoughts

How do you like the linked editorial? A lot? Thanks! Not so much? Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry? Well, what are you going to do about it? You could send us an e-mail (or even write us a letter, if you can find a stamp). But today you have a new option: Rewrite the editorial yourself, using a Web page known as a "wiki," at

Wikis are among the newest of the new forms of communication that have emerged on the Web. The simplest explanation of a wiki is that it is a Web page that readers can change. When you go to a wiki, what you see is a page reflecting all the changes made so far. You can also see all the interim versions. Then you can insert or add your own changes. The result is a constantly evolving collaboration among readers in a communal search for truth. Or that's the theory.

It sounds nutty. But the best-known example works bewilderingly well. This is the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia built on the contributions of thousands of readers (plus some minimal supervision from the host site). Readers are also fact checkers.

To be sure, encyclopedias and newspaper editorials are very different literary forms. Contributors to Wikipedia share in some general way a commitment to accuracy. By contrast, strong disagreement is built into the concept of an editorial. Plenty of skeptics are predicting embarrassment; like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip. We acknowledge that possibility.

Nevertheless, we proceed. We're calling this a "public beta," which is a fancy way of saying we're making something available even though we haven't completely figured it out. A better term might be "experiment." We begin with just one wikitorial. Maybe a year from now a link for "wiki this page" will be as common on the Web as "printer-friendly" or "e-mail this article." Or maybe not.

It partly depends on you. You can help by participating and by avoiding hostile behavior. Wikis can build community, but they also rely on a sense of community. We also count on you to suggest improvements.

Who knows where this will lead? It may lead straight into the dumpster of embarrassing failures.

Or it may lead to a new form of opinion journalism, reflecting the opinions of everyone who chooses to participate.


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