More Great Wikipedia Coverage: Hurricane Ivan

By Deane Barker on September 15, 2004

Hurricane Ivan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Wikipedia coverage of Hurricane Ivan is just phenomenal. They have hotlinked satellite images, all the latest announcement and statistics, links to about everything you need to know, etc.

Like the Madrid bombing coverage and the Olympics coverage, Wikipedia again gets the official “Pretend It’s Pretty and Sitting On Your Desk” award from Gadgetopia for “Distinction in the Area of Being Freaking Awesome.” Cygwin won it last week.

The thing about this coverage is that its different than the news outlet coverage — as different as blogs are to wikis. CNN and FoxNews coverage is like a blog: they post a story about one particular aspect of the issue, then the story gets shunted further and further down the page, until, eventually, you can only get to it from search (which sucks wholeheartedly, incidentally).

One of the problems with the blog news format is that basic and historical (not up-to-the-minute) information can get lost. The latest article may be about people getting prepared, so there’s no need to mention how many people died when the hurricane passed over Grenada. So where does the reader go to find this? They have to dig through past articles, which may or may not be easy to find.

Here’s a perfect example —

I’ve been amazed at the staying power of Ivan. I mean, we have big storms in the Midwest, but they last overnight at the most. We’ve been hearing about Ivan for so long now, that I got wondering just how old this storm was. When was it first “discovered”?

What are the odds I’m going to find this information in the latest article from CNN? Nil. They’ve moved on — they’re talking about the exodus from New Orleans by now. The beginning of the storm is ancient history.

But with Wikipedia, right near the top of the article, is a bookmarked link for “Storm History.” That section starts off…

On September 2, 2004, tropical depression nine formed…

A perfect, instant answer. (And — even more amazingly — Ivan has been raging in the Carribean for 13 straight days. Holy cats.)

With Wikipedia, you’re not seeing a series of posted items. You’re seeing a single body of information, continually updated and groomed. Thus, the basic information stays right where it’s easy to see. Wikis are more “speak to me like I know nothing” information, rather than “tell me the very latest nuance” information.

The ideal is really a combination of both — keep the basic (wiki-ish) information right there, and have a sidebar of the latest (blog-ish) information as it comes in.

I wondered about this last year. I said:

What’s the difference between a blog post and an “article” or a “story”? By those terms, I mean content that isn’t as ephemeral as posts that hit the site every 15 minutes.

Blogs are, by definition, transient — they’re time-based, and items get essentially dropped into a stampede that tramples down the front page. What if you want something to rise above the stampede?

I’m still wondering, really. How do you strike a balance between the opposing powers of wiki and blog?

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