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Wiki world

If you haven't noticed, Silicon Valley giants, like Google and Yahoo, and a host of two-man shops are attempting to fuse and apply the user-generated Wiki-model, the expert-driven About.com model and the social-networking News Corp's MySpace blog model. Whether all of this turns out to be the next growth engine for online advertising remains to be seen, but the end results are beginning to remind me of that most prosaic advertising vehicle, the brochure.

In some ways the collaboration involved in these efforts recalls the efforts needed to compile any reference work. In particular, it reminds me of Simon Winchester's two books: "The Professor

and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary" and "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary." I'm reminded of these books because in them we learn that it took hundreds of volunteers (including J.R.R. Tolkien) to contribute their knowledge to create this Bible for grammarians. In like vein, the Web services in development today - Google Co-op, Yahoo MyWeb (and other social media services), ShopWiki, Squidoo, JetEye, Plum, Kaboodle, WikiOutdoords, Wikia, WikiHow, WikiTravel, World66, to name a fraction of the ones that exist or are in the making -- expect contribution from passionate people who will share knowledge simply for the sake of sharing. But unlike that massive undertaking to publish one universal reference for words, today's Web efforts aren't a comprehensive dictionary so much as a tapestry of, well, online brochures.

Admittedly, the creation of brochures sounds absolutely boring. And any contribution to such promotional material seems far less noble than submissions to the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. But it doesn't make these brochures less useful. They're big money generators too, though did you know that a 20-volume OED edition costs $1,600 a pop? Last year,
$31 billion was spent in direct marketing (which includes pamphlets, postcards and brochures), according to the Direct Marketing Association.

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