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Friday, July 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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David Postman

Campaigns can become Wiki-fied

Seattle Times chief political reporter

The founder of Wikipedia, the group-edited, online encyclopedia, says "it's time for politics to become more intelligent."

And Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales thinks he can get people of all political persuasions to put aside ideology and partisanship to create a new era of politics. So this week he unveiled Campaigns Wikia (http://campaigns.wikia.com/wiki/Campaigns_Wikia). He says the software that allows people to write and edit together on Wikipedia naturally leads people to "collaboratively engage and to be helpful and cooperative, even with the people you disagree with."

Right now, Campaigns Wikia is mostly people talking about what it is, what it can be or what it should be.

Soon Wales hopes it will emerge as a way campaigns can involve the broader community. As an example, he said, a candidate's position on an issue could be fine-tuned by the people reading and editing it into something more understandable or meaningful.

"I think there is a very reasonable position to say, 'Here's my stand on the issue, but I understand I don't know everything, and I also understand that the community can help me understand how this issue affects their lives so I can shape it in a way to make it more meaningful to other people.' "

Wales knows he's asking for a lot.

"Campaigns trend to be very traditional and very command-control and very worried about their messaging," he said. "The idea of letting go and letting this maybe happen a little independently of the campaign is going to be interesting to watch."

OK, I know this sounds a little too geeky and na´ve. I had to keep Wales on the phone for a while Thursday so he could explain this in terms that made sense in the real world.

But before dismissing the effort outright, realize that you don't have to go back many election cycles to a time when a lot of people in politics thought the same thing about blogs.

Today blogs are standard campaign apparatus, used by candidates, political parties, journalists and activists.

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Wikipolitics existed before Wales went live this week. In Utah, Pete Ashdown, a Democrat running a long-shot race against Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, allows anyone to go in and edit his policy positions.

It comes with a warning, though, that the site does not contain Ashdown's official policy stands.

At Campaigns Wikia, some early users are debating how to make a collaborative process work across ideological lines.

"As you are probably all aware, Wikipedia is great, but it's not so great on subjects that are controversial or political," wrote one user. "What Jimbo is suggesting is that we have a wiki ESPECIALLY FOCUSED on the very sorts of subjects on which wikis work THE WORST — controversial or political issues."

I don't doubt that in the coming years politics will become increasingly wiki-fied, at least in the token way that many campaign blogs are today. Wales has bigger hopes, saying in an open letter, "participatory media will bring us participatory politics."

David Postman is The Seattle Times' chief political reporter. His column appears Fridays.

Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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