AboutUs: "We are introducing the edit button to more people"

By July 25, 2007

A wiki giving Internet users the power to comment about web sites, AboutUs recently brought Ward Cunningham on board with the mission to find new ways to encourage collaboration. AboutUs founder Ray King has been very adept at fin

ding ways to bring his interest for the domain name business and collaborative technologies together. It is not his first endeavor in that field: ICANNWiki is a wiki that monitors the ICANN community and WikiIndex is a listing of wikis which aims to be exhaustive. Now AboutUs, launched in August 2006, is a different animal. “If sites owners and the community at large share the responsibility of introducing a site to the world, there can be a conversation between customers, vendors, constituents.” Anybody registering a domain name provides some basic contact information. “The idea was that it would be good to expand on that whois record and add information in a consistent format about the type of site, the industry, the multiple business locations or hours of business. As a site owner, you would be able to better say who you are and it would help people find you,” explains Ray King. King set out to sell his idea, but had a hard time convincing either registrars to sell the service to their customers or search engines to incorporate it for a fee. “But it gave us a clue: we could publish that information on our own site and crawlers would pick it up. We also decided to make it completely free and editable,” says King who says he got bit by the Wiki bug a while back. Ironically, he had to trek to the Wikimania conference in Frankfurt to meet fellow Portlander and Wiki inventor Ward Cunningham. “Digg is all about the community. A site is all about the company itself. We are the interaction between the two,” says King. “Companies get smarter with feedback. Those who pay attention to what is being said and don’t try to control it will be more successful. The marketplace decides who is in business. We accelerate that and a wiki is a perfect environment,” adds Ward Cunningham, who recently joined AboutUs after acting as an advisor. If you search for a domain on AboutUs, the system will bring up what has already been written about it. If not, it will create a new page on the fly with some basic information (whois record, a snippet from the site’s About Us page, a logo, other sites pointing to the site you are searching,…). In order to avoid the accusation of spamming site owners, AboutUs doesn’t notify them that their site has been queried. The company which is now 20-people strong does monitor the edits with the help of three volunteer community members. “We are introducing the concept of the wiki to many people. At this point, 10% of people contribute to wikis. We have to make easier. The philosophy to cooperate is 12-years old. Using the resources we have now like large disk spaces and fast Internet, we have to create something more dramatic,” says Cunningham. Resolving conflict is something that is on his mind. “If we don’t agree, let’s not repeat the same opinion more loudly. Let’s figure what it is we don’t agree about. I want to create a tool that leads people to decision-making. It is a little bit like family counseling. I want to get people to cooperate in a way that has never been possible before,” says Cunningham. AboutUs hopes to attract enough traffic to make advertising its main source of revenue. Sponsorships and affiliation opportunities are other options. For example, there could be a list of books in which a company is quoted. AboutUs would get a commission on sale for bringing the user to a purchase decision. In May, the site logged 6 million unique visitors. There are about 3,000 edits a day, which means that one in 100 visitors is moved to edit a page.  Isabelle Boucq   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at editorial@atelier-us.com

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