In the escalating scramble of newspapers adapting to the rise of the Internet and blogs, the Los Angeles Times yesterday announced its plans for “wikitorials” — an online feature that allows readers to “revise” recent editorials to their liking and then post their own version.

Blogging.La writes that the idea is rather “forward thinking” of the paper, but also runs through a couple wikis (collaborative Web pages that can be edited by multiple users) that no one ever bothered to use.

Ross at Many 2 Many — a group blog about social software — picks up on the Blogging.La post and adds to the “cool, but no one uses it” meme. He explains, “Generally, wikis can work best when something is slightly unfinished, when room for contribution is left clear. Finished text leads people to drop in links or short comments. Quite different from wikitechture that involves people in the process of production and encourages development of shared practices.” He — like Blogging.LA — points to a wikipedia experiment, Socialtext, that, according to Ross, isn’t fairing so well.

Ross also has some commentary about “reference model” wikis that, well, we don’t know enough about social software to understand.

Another phrase we hadn’t heard until today — “edit war.” Another Corante blogger, Ernest Miller, provides a link to this definition:

The term edit war is a misnomer, but a catchy misnomer that is not likely to be replaced by a more apt term. In reality, edit wars on Wikipedia are reversion wars involving two Wikipedians, or sometimes two factions of Wikipedians. To wit, one Wikipedian edits an article, another Wikipedian reverts the article, and the first Wikipedian reinstates the changes that he or she made to the previous version, prompting the second Wikipedian to revert to the previous version. In the game of chess, three repetitions results in a draw. However, on Wikipedia, an edit war can go on indefinitely. This clutters the article history. And it makes it difficult for uninvolved users to make edits, since participants in an edit war are unlikely to be careful about merging third-party changes.

Predicting edit wars on the new Times wiki, Miller argues, “After all, editorials are supposed to have a point of view, with which many readers will undoubtedly and inevitably disagree. Furthermore, aren’t editorials supposed to have a ‘voice’? How do you accomplish this, do you want to accomplish this, in a ‘wikitorial’?”

But, like the Corante blogger before him, Miller signs off his initial post with some fancy wikitorial lingo — “Perhaps they’ll have forking?” — that goes over our heads.

Miller begins to make sense to us again when, in an update, he takes on the Times for failing to grasp the practical application of wikis. Editorial page editor Andres Martinez told the New York Times, “We’ll have some editorials where you can go online and edit an editorial to your satisfaction.” Miller responds, “Hmmm … I’m not sure they get it. When you edit a wiki you’re not really editing it to your satisfaction, you’re editing it to the satisfaction of everyone who reads the wiki subsequently. Cuz if you don’t, they’ll edit it to their satisfaction.”

Tip to the Los Angeles Times: If you’re going to add a wiki to your Web site, you should probably understand how it’s going to work.

And finally, on this Monday morning, the always-classy Matt Drudge leaks a claim that the upcoming Hillary Clinton book by former Newsweek foreign editor Edward Klein purports that Chelsea Clinton was the result of husband raping wife. Conservative bloggers answered the “clarion call” of AJ Strata at The Strata-Sphere in denouncing Klein, Drudge and, by extension, anyone else who trucks in these allegations. On one subject where there wouldn’t be endless “edit wars,” bloggers from PoliPundit to the Ace of Spades to Captain Ed express outrage.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.