I know this through first hand experience…
Trying to edit or add content to Wikipedia’s arcane style and coding can be, at the very least, challenging and enormously time consuming, enough cause to stay away thereafter.
And that’s the reason why the better part of half of the active contributors are under 22 years of age and that most of its content has become skewed toward geek topics, featuring more articles on technology, science fiction and military history, than on the humanities and social sciences.
There is no question that in its first decade Wikipedia’s crowdsourced platform has successfully captivated and engaged masses of people. Just consider that it is now ranked as the fifth most-visited site in the world and yet, of the 400 million users who visit the site every month, according to Wikipedia’s own estimates, only 0.02-0.03 percent of visitors actively contribute to articles. Its stated vision, “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge,” has yet to be achieved.
So what have been the barriers for participation?
For starters, in its present state, Wikipedia deters content creation and editing by those who are best qualified to do so — the educators, who spend more time criticizing it, (usually for some minor error as in a typo), than engaging in it. If it is to serve this generation much like the Encyclopedia Britannica did the many generations that came before us, it needs to attract a new generation of knowledgeable editors that become comfortable with how to cite sources, provide references, validate the information they are adding and understand shortcuts that can be taken to provide an internal link in lieu of using the full html address for a forwarded article.
The good news is that it is now being addressed with the launch of a pilot project by the Wikimedia Foundation that includes several public policy initiatives on university campuses. Basically the initiatives will ask Professors at public policy programs in universities in the US to participate by first asking their students to better some existing articles and eventually include knowledge of navigating the Wikipedia as to edits and content creation in college curriculums. The Foundation plans to form Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors and Wikipedia Online Ambassadors who will help train these new Wikipedians. There will also be a Wikipedia Teaching Fellowship program to accompany the Public Policy Initiative programs.
In the end it’s like everything else. With training and mentoring in place, a new generation of editors should blossom and Wikipedia will finally achieve the status that once belonged to the venerable Britannica Encyclopedia. However, it is poised to reach the billions that the older encyclopedia never even envisioned.
The missing link has always been knowledge and willingness to adapt. With the expected batch of new editors resulting from the mentoring and training programs. Wikipedia’s founding vision of “freely sharing in the sum of all knowledge” can finally be achieved.
In today’s world of crowdsourcing and outspoken self-proclaimed critics, the answer may very well be that it is simply another chicken and egg story. Some will say the company, while others will point out that the customer is always “king.”
Take the Gap saga, as an example. In my blog of October 12, 2010, I posed the same question when the company acquiesced to a consumer outcry against its new logo roll out – an outcry that flooded the Internet with derisions, mockeries, parodies, causing the company to retract their new logo. Never mind that the new logo was designed based on two years of market research with costly development costs. A knee-jerk reaction at best…
Now it’s Starbucks’ turn to roll out a new logo on its 40th anniversary and, to the chagrin of its loyal customers, the new green logo is essentially Starbucks’ representation of its old logo’s female siren, but without the company name or ‘coffee’. Actually, it is kudos to Starbucks that they have evolved to the level of recognition where a name is unnecessary such as several well-known companies, including Apple, Inc. (AAPL.O) and Nike, Inc (NKE.N), which have long used only symbols to represent their brands.
Much like the Gap roll out, self-described Starbucks fanatics were not impressed and, among hundreds of comments on Starbucks’ website, called for the company’s name to be put back into the logo. There is an OMG reaction to the change and the resulting negative buzz, although not as frenzied as with Gap to date, is building in fury. As an example, from infuriated customers we hear comments such as, “I think it’s nuts,’ and “What’s it going to be — the coffee formerly known as Starbucks?” or “At the rate the logo is evolving, it will soon be nothing but an extreme close-up of the mermaid’s nose,” or “Who’s the bonehead in your marketing department that removed the world-famous name of Starbucks Coffee from your new logo?”
What I don’t get is why customers bother, when their worries, if any, should be about taste or price changes. The on and offline media have certainly fueled the new uproar by headlining Starbucks’ new logo in major publications. The last two days must have been slow news days…
But what is more worrisome is the changing relationship between brand and customer. There is a growing sense that customers, regardless whether Gap, Starbucks, or other, feel they own the company to which they have given their loyalty – that it is theirs, because without them there is no company and, as such, corporate headquarters owe them the courtesy to consult them before changes occur. The worry is that with the explosion of social media and real-time feedback, has given customers a platform from which to hold brands hostage to their whims of likes or dislikes.
The reality is that companies spend years on market research and money to fund it, research that nets new opportunities or roads to take. Customers would do well to trust the companies that gave them the products that they adopted as theirs — and leave the driving of company growth – to the companies.
Unlike the Gap, Starbucks hasn’t budged. The logo stays so far…
It’s finished. It’s over. Gap has retracted the new logo and put back the old one – for now. The company has acquiesced to a consumer outcry that flooded the Internet with derisions, mockeries, parodies as well as amateur re-design suggestions, as the new logo rolled out. The whole journey, from new logo roll out to retraction, took just a few days.
But it took two years for the company to develop a new logo earmarked to better represent the evolving Gap brand, one that is “more contemporary and current and honors the heritage of the Gap brand with the blue box but takes it forward” according to Louise Callagy, a Gap spokeswoman — plus an untold sum of monies spent.
The social media frenzy that followed Gap’s new logo roll out, could probably have been predicted, given that the brand is such an iconic one and so beloved by the very generation that view themselves as bona fide, self-proclaimed and self-appointed critics and use social media as their main communication tool.
As a matter of fact, had Gap’s recent logo change been based on a social media experiment strategy, it would have been brilliant, for the unplanned rapid fire online reaction has all the elements that would make any marketer salivate. The problem is that it wasn’t planned and it seems to have caught Gap by surprise, causing them to scramble in response with knee-jerk reactions.
Initially, the hastily made-up response came from Gap’s president and its corporate communications VP, who spoke of the logo as only “starting a conversation,” although clearly after the fact and not the original intent. Then the company opened up this “conversation” by indicating that it would be pursuing a “crowdsourcing project” in the near term. Whether that project was earmarked for a logo or not, time will tell, but the timing of it is certainly coincidental.
Based on the Gap case, marketers would do well to consider as to who owns their brand and who decides a brand’s corporate identity – the corporation or its mass audience? Or better yet, who leads it, the corporation or the crowd? Can a brand’s identity even be Crowdsourced?
Brandchannel commentor Gunter Soydanbay notes that, “without any kind of even mildly specific strategy or direction, crowd-sourcing anything is a futile exercise. Unless Gap is actually suggesting that the brand is crowd-sourcing a business plan.”
In the end, it is a game. Look, it’s not critical whether a logo is blue in one corner or the other, or whether the font is Helvetica or another. What is critical is that consumers today want a say as to what ensues with their beloved brands and corporations of such iconic brands and will need to be aware of this and find a means to be inclusive, well before a logo change is planned, implemented and monies are wasted.
It might be smarter to choose to CrowdSource a logo, or have a social media competitive design competition with input by brand advocates who are not necessarily design professionals (but can be also), and then take it all back to the drawing board and come up with a look that “feels” inclusive, assuages the masses, but still has the corporation in charge of their own brand identity. Or have a well-prepared plan in place to better prepare consumer advocates for a coming change.
The Gap case feels like a chicken and egg story. What comes first?