October 21, 2008 By Matt Williams
Wikipedia, meet a government spinoff, the LoudounPedia.
An online encyclopedia written and updated by residents and organizations in northern Virginia's Loudoun County, the wiki is the brainchild of the county's public library system and librarian Brett Mason. The wiki, at www.loudounpedia.org, went live this month. Mason said to his knowledge it's a unique service locally and among U.S. public libraries.
"It was kind of serendipity and a little flash of inspiration," Mason said about LoudounPedia's origins. "Well over a year ago, the county went on a learning-Web 2.0 initiative, inspired by Helene Blowers, [formerly] of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County library. She had a nice little 23-point course, and through this everyone was kind of in the system diving into these things, and I happened to say in a presentation that one of things we could do would be a Loudoun wiki."
The wiki's front page is topical and updatable. It currently features a channel that lists and describes the county's pumpkin patches. Another button is a portal to county elections information, including a Google map of polling places. The LoudounPedia also lists locations for flu shots.
Local organizations, such as the Piedmont Environmental Council, have begun to see the value of contributing to the wiki, Mason said, because it can be a de facto Web site. "It also provides, from [the county's] perspective, authoritative authorship and they take ownership of it as well - it keeps some copyright issues out of our hands because they put it up."
Mason said he expects more municipal governments to start their own wikis. Knowing what you want to accomplish is vital for an effective rollout, he said. "You need to review the wiki software in terms of what you want to achieve and the types of elements you want to include in it. Also make sure your content management system, or the wiki management system that's out there, can support that." LoudounPedia is built upon PBwiki.
A local wiki such as LoudounPedia can be developed cheaply, but Mason said a smaller budget may force governments to forgo customization of the wiki.