Like many nonprofits, my old employer People For the American Way was all over the place when it came to new technology. While they had some really great staff excited about blogs, podcasts, and other new technology, some (including some young people) were skeptical and perhaps a bit afraid with how the new technologies could change their relationship with their member/donors. Although myself and fellow saavy staff were able to convince their youth program to start a blog and use an open-source platform to teach courses online, the main organization stuck to a more traditional online model: huge, impersonal email lists and a static (non-blog, non-interactive) website. To be fair, this approach was partly because of the limitations of their hosting company. As a result the traffic numbers for the main website were quite low from what I believe it could be.
Thus I was excited to read about their new experiment called WikithePresidency.org where they hope the public will “both acquire and share information about Executive Branch wrongdoing.” While I applaud any experimental use of new technology to generate dialogue and build a community online, I fear they’ve done what sometimes seems to happen and jumped too far into a new technology. A wiki is an easily-hijacked medium, and not something I would toy around with if I had as many enemies as PFAW. While I think wikis work for groups of people who are working towards a common goal, they can easily fail if not enough community stewards — or a lack of purpose — are present. Furthermore, I think for most users wikis are non intuitive and confusing to navigate, why most are eventually abandoned.
If I think a Wiki is not the best technology, what would I suggest? Perhaps just a regular blog: the organization would be able to set the agenda and even, if they wanted, moderate comments. By now many political campaigns have shown blogs, when administered well, can be powerful tools for an organization to build a community, raising money, and promote themselves online. In the meantime, I’ll be watching to see how their experiment develops.