According to the Financial Times, Thomas Friedman "has a vision for the final edition of The World is Flat: anybody will be able to update it". The paper quotes Tom (the article is for subscribers only):
It has been suggested to me that we actually turn the book into an open-source product. Just put it up on the web like Wikipedia and let people add to it.
Needless to say, the publishers are not too eager to take this step, fearing the text could be vandalized or the whole thing hijacked by anti-globalization activists (not to mention the obvious copyright issues and revenue pressure: this is a book that has been sold already more than a million times).
But going wiki seems a natural development for Tom's book. In it, he contends that we are at the beginning of a new phase of globalization (3.0) brought by ten disruptive sociopolitical and tech events, which he calls "flatteners" (the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Netscape IPO; workflow software; open-source; outsourcing; offshoring; supply-chaining; insourcing; in-forming; and wireless: see the Wired write-up). The point of much of it is that the flatter world is all about interconnectedness and platforms and collaboration, the three words that pretty much define what a wiki is.
I'm quite sure Tom will go for it, and (because the book is so influential) it will be a highly interesting media experiment to watch. Publishers haven't had so far much success with their wiki trials. Last June for example, the Los Angeles Times started putting "wikitorials" on its website "empowering readers to rewrite LAT editorials", as it explained. But a couple of days later it had to stop the whole thing and now the page reads: "Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material" (they were posting porn and insults, actually).
What the LAT experiment revealed, is that opinionated texts are not obvious material for wikis. Their first wiki-ized editorial was on the Irak war, and highly critical of the Bush administration: it almost begged for trouble. As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote commenting on the LAT initiative:
It seems impossible for someone who disagrees with the central thrust of the original editorial to both respect the intentions of the authors, and also to have a voice.
Even softer topics, though, may not have yielded much better results. The model that so far has worked best is the "neutral point of view" approach, at the core of Wikipedia: using wikis to find a common ground on a topic, starting basically from scratch or from drafts (rather than from a finished and edited text, as in the LAT case).
Entirely written by volunteers, Wikipedia has become one of the 50 most popular websites and a reference of choice for many people (and for other reference websites such as Dictionnary.com and Answers.com, which automatically scrap out its content), although it should be clear to anyone that, because of its open and evolving nature, its content can be flawed, partial or even intentionally misleading.
In July, Jimmy spoke at TEDGLOBAL in Oxford, which I produced, and described the quality control process they've put in place to monitor new articles and updates. It involves two indisputable principles (neutrality of point of view and hundred-percent free software and content), some system design ("recent changes" and "watchlist" pages and other features) and a few strong but flexible guiding social principles (consensus, democracy, aristocracy - there is an "inner circle" of highly-regarded and very active wikipedians - and occasional monarchy - Wales himself as final benevolent arbiter). He also stressed that vandalism was minimal, and only rarely has a page been "locked" for short periods.
Beatifully simple and astonishingly effective, but not absolute. Early November for example, the Wikipedia English article about Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg was modified to say that he had been in prison for pedophilia; the story made the front page of the Dagbladed newspaper and of other Norwegian media. A few weeks before, John Seigenthaler, former editorial page editor of USA Today and former advisor to Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s, had discovered that the Wikipedia notice about him read:
For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven. (...) He moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984. He started one of the country's largest public relations firms shortly thereafter.
Siegenthaler asked Wales to remove the text (which he did) and wrote an editorial blasting the free online encyclopedia as "a flawed and irresponsible research tool" (Wikipedia has its own summary of the story). This Sunday, the New York Times revealed that the false entry has been traced by a critic of Wikipedia to a man in Seigenthaler's home town, Nashville, who had abused the notice "to shock a co-worker".
Social content production is naturally subversive, and Wikipedia is the most advanced experiment in tech-driven social methodology. In response to the Siegenthaler case (and to another one in which British podcaster Adam Curry was accused of editing out references to other podcast pioneers in the Wikipedia article about the new format), Wales has just introduced new rules barring anonymous users from creating new articles; only registered wikipedians will be able to do so, although anonymous users will still be able to edit existing entries.