Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lessons from 'Lost'

Jimmy Wales wasn’t at the 2010 Media Summit in NYC this week to talk about Wikipedia, the giant, user-created encyclopedia he created nearly a decade ago. Instead Wales – joined by Internet all-stars including Caterina Fake, the founder of Flickr – talked about another massive, user-generated encyclopedia, the Web site Lostpedia, and what it says about the future.

Lostpedia was created for fans of the television show “Lost,” launched in 2005 by a fan and now owned by Wales’ company Wikia. It holds (as of last month) a whopping 5,795 separate articles related to the show’s themes, cliff-hanging plot twists, characters, and digital page after digital page of “Lost” miscellanea.

The site’s popularity is a sign of the influence that user-based communities can wield on producers of content – in response, the show’s creators began to layer in more and more mysteries for online commenters to unpack.

And interestingly, pointed out panelist David Jacobs, vice president at the blogging company Six Apart, the Internet community has contributed to fans being more likely to watch the show on television when it is first aired, rather than later on DVD or by streaming. Fans don’t want to risk being left out of the online conversation, or, for that matter, of conversations at work the next day. (At Six Apart, the show is so popular the workaholic staff schedules time to discuss “Lost” on the group calendar, Jacobs said.)

It’s a lesson that conference organizers are learning: If you make your content compelling enough, online communities will not only not replace your meeting, but will dramatically increase the appetite for it.

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