Why Building The Video Version of Wikipedia Is Possible, But Difficult

I occasionally describe my company as the Wikipedia of video, but for-profit. 

So I couldn't help but notice a recent study suggesting: “it may seem impossible for an encyclopedia of everything to ever near completion, but … the English-language Wikipedia's pretty well filled out.”

The Wikipedia case study

Wikipedia scaled by initially leveraging the Web’s anonymous and open nature, but it ultimately succeeded by relying on selectiveness and credibility.

Video: what you see is what you get

Wikipedia’s publishing model created a massive collection of high-quality articles, but it can never replicate the quantity and quality of its articles in video format.



Anyone could write an article on a topic regardless of what their background was, who they were, where they were located, and why they were driven to cover the topic. 

The same cannot be said about videos: 

-        You can fake being an expert through an article by researching a topic thoroughly; it’s much harder to fake being an authority in a video. 

-        To do any justice to a topic, you need the right b-roll, obtained through some legal means. 

-        You then need to bring all of ingredients together and follow a given recipe. 

These make the notion of the Wikipedia of video nearly impossible. 

Evergreen: Timely vs. Timeless?

The study in question observed that most Wikipedia articles were written in the 2006-07 period, so depending on which topics those articles covered, those may require some updating.  As such, it’s best to cover timeless topic (World War I won’t really change, but how many times the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series does).

Editing and updating is Wiki’s strength; Video’s weakness

Wikipedia’s wiki platform enables anyone to edit and update an article as need be.  With videos, updating an existing video takes time -- and in a distributed model where that video resides on countless websites, it’s a pain.  When a pro franchise wins another championship, a band releases a new album, or a celebrity couple breaks up, you need to determine the pros and cons of updating that video.

Production doesn’t scale

Then there’s the reality that production doesn’t scale.  Well, production of low-quality content scales, but high-quality programming doesn’t scale.  To scale as a content creator, you need to distribute more and monetize better, instead of finding ways to “automagically” scale production.

The Pareto Principle

It’s helpful to remember that 20% of topics account for 80% of audience interest.  If you have a disciplined approach, you can create a representative-enough library of videos.


To quote Johnny Carson, “people will pay more to be entertained than educated.”  As such, to create content that audiences will care to watch, you need to think like an encyclopedia but act like a consumer magazine. 

Factual content vs. entertainment vs. news

Creators prefer to produce news or entertainment; few cover factual topics due to a lack of interest by the producer who dream of being the next Steven Spielberg or Lorne Michaels, but also due to the massive amount of time it takes to properly research, fact-check, narrate and edit factual videos.

It’s the business model, stupid

And of course, let’s not forget the main obstacle, which is the fact that video production is wildly expensive and the revenue model still murky, at best.  Some online producers have managed to build production models that cost one-tenth of cable programmers’.  We’ve managed to reduce that another 90%, otherwise we would never be able to produce what we produce.

A few years ago, I analyzed what Wikipedia would be worth if it were a for-profit, and the numbers weighed in at about $500 million.  I noted, however, that Wikipedia’s success was largely a function of its nonprofit nature (contributors provided content for free; other websites linked generously to it, lifting its PageRank, etc.).

In other words, it is possible to build a Wikipedia for video provided you take into account the major differences between video and text, and recognize video’s limitations.  But if you do, you can build a good enough alternative to it in video and defy the odds.

3 comments about "Why Building The Video Version of Wikipedia Is Possible, But Difficult".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 29, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.

    In some ways, there already is a video version of Wikipedia. It's called YouTube. In my classroom, there's hardly a day when I cannot find a short or long video on some difficult concept. The difference is that Wikipedia is carefully curated by its creators, so its content is more uniform. YouTube is littered with weak content mixed with a much smaller but sufficient number of usable videos. In particular, the TED videos constitute an encyclopedic wealth of information with good production values.

  2. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from, October 29, 2012 at 2 p.m.

    Douglas, thanks for the suggestion... I'll look them up ;) - I actually agree that YouTube's littany of content is already being used by many curators to recreate the encyclopedia effect... but you're at the mercy of whatever content's out there.

    FWIW, Wikipedia remains a creator of content, though it's an open source. The content provided belongs to Wikipedia whereas any content provided to YouTube can be taken down, so for the purposes of this article, I was talking about content creators, and not aggregators.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 30, 2012 at 7:13 a.m.

    The real issues, compared to text, are with that video is not so easily browsable, searchable, or copy-and-pastable, and performing rights is bigger legal problem.

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