What’s the point of a Reuters wiki?

When I first read about the Reuters wiki of financial terms I thought, wow, interesting, innovative, hot. Must check it out.

In other words, my response to it was entirely conditioned by my own individual proclivities. Basically, these can be summed up by the phrase “if it’s cool, it must be good.” I am your archetypal early adopter, quick to enthuse before rapidly becoming bored.

So, is the Reuters financial wiki aimed at me? Probably. I’m blogging about it right now, which means the Reuters brand has edged up imperceptibly in the Pageranked blogosphere. But out in the real world, doesn’t Reuters hope that non-early adopters – you know, people with real lives and normal attention spans – will take up some of these things? Of course they do.

Which is where my beef starts with this wiki idea. Mainstream users don’t want to know how Joe Bloggs defines “money market.” They want to know how Reuters defines “money market.” If Reuters is anything, it is an impartial describer of the world; if it isn’t that, it isn’t anything. So why on earth would it put its badge on the definitions of any Tom, Dick or Harry who cares to make them?

Ross Mayfield thinks he knows why:

So what is the potential reward? Reuters is putting itself at the center of it’s industry in cultivating shared language. The renewable resource becomes a focus of attention that can be directed in respect of the social contract. The community that may form, their greatest challenge going forward, could contribute tangible word of mouth benefits. This is community marketing, people — an essential move as trust and influence shifts from institutions to peers. And very significant institutions are starting to get it.

But Reuters’ industry isn’t “cultivating shared language”, it’s in describing the world in as much detail and with as much authority as it can muster.

Reuters describes the wiki project thusly:

The Reuters Financial Glossary is a freely-available, online, open resource for information about the financial markets. It is a collaborative project based upon a written glossary previously written and edited by Reuters Editorial; this web site is an experiment in collaborative editing around previously existing content.

Fair enough. But where on earth is this leading? I would argue that the Reuters “opportunity” is precisely the opposite of “collaborative editing” – its opportunity is the same as it’s always been, to be a definitive, locked-down, reliable and authoritative reporter of events. And what’s more, to try this experiment in the world of financial markets seems doubly perplexing, given the tight nature of regulation in those markets, where authority is something that can be measured and acted against. What happens when the first person makes an investment decision based on something they read on the Reuters wiki, and then raises it with the Financial Services Authority?

None of which is meant as a criticism of Reuters. This is clearly an interesting experiment, and I’ll be watching it in that light. This is more part of a general theme I’ve been mulling over – the extent to which the really trusted media brands (of which there are very few, I’ll admit) water down their own authority through community participation. Whether that will happen here we’ll have to wait and see.