We believe the success of Davis Wiki is a result of the vision we had as well as the tremendous effort we put in to bring that vision to life. We also believe this type of success is replicable, but it is by no means easy or necessarily obvious. We see similarities in the mainstream adoption of blogging as a new medium. Although the concept has existed since 1994, and many users kept online journals, there were few examples of successful blogs as we know them today, and it took many years and many pioneering efforts as well as the creation of specialized tools for blogging to establish itself as a different new medium. Wikis were invented in 1994, and it took until 2001 for the first truly groundbreaking project (Wikipedia) to be created, and several more years for it to get significant traction. Many community wikis look to Wikipedia for guidance and try to follow in its footsteps. However, we believe local wikis are something dramatically different, and Wikipedia's model is not the right approach. It is understandably difficult for new community wikis to reject the principles that have worked so well for the world's largest wiki, and to this day Davis Wiki is one of only a handful of successful local wikis that serve as an example of a better model for local communities.
To address the two specific examples of wikis, there are some clear differences between their approach to building a community resource and what we did in Davis as well as what we propose. The most glaring difference, even at first glance, is that both of these wikis use the standard, off-the-shelf Media Wiki software. This software is general-purpose and, while it is very popular, is not well suited to a local community wiki. By contrast, Davis Wiki was built on custom software, carefully crafted to include features needed for a local community resource and, just as important, to exclude features that are not needed and to make it very easy to use.
The second thing that stands out in both of these sites is they do not have unique or interesting content. This makes it unlikely that a new visitor will find anything worthwhile and have the urge to visit the site again. Davis Wiki opened to the public with over 300 unique, engaging articles and over a thousand interesting photos--all original content that could not be found anywhere else online. Unique content makes the site a destination, as opposed to a collection of facts, and it takes hard work to build up the initial content that will attract visitors when a site opens to the public while resisting the urge to open it early and let others do the work.
There are also important differences in the way they built or tried to build content, community, and even in the stated goals of the wikis. In the case of Cvillepedia, the majority of the content was contributed by the employees of the Charlottesville Tomorrow newspaper, and the site was started as a "research database," meant to address a very different...