With my two brothers Peter and Stephen, we co-founded a website with the intention of making our hobby our business. Our business, Opera Scotland www.operascotland.org, is positioned as the website for opera listings and performance history. The listings component allows people to identify forthcoming performances. As the concept has evolved, we think of the archive portion of the website as being the ‘Wisden’ of opera in Scotland. We are steadily building up information on profiles and performances, and plan eventually to sell downloadable booklets. In common with all small business people, we aim to demonstrate our expertise and project it in all sorts of ways.
In this niche we had to offer added value. Early on, we resolved to identify the date of first performance of a particular opera in Scotland and build up an appropriate database. As Scottish Opera, for example, announce their annual programme, we search archives for the date of first performance to place on our website, and a note about notable past performances. We promote the site using both traditional approaches and new media. We distribute leaflets, well targeted, both face to face and through relevant publications. In terms of new media, we are developing our skills in search engine optimisation, social media (Facebook and Twitter) – and Wikipedia!
Everyone I am sure knows Wikipedia as its entries pop up at the top of Google searches. This online encyclopaedia has grown in quality and expertise, and is now far more highly regarded. This online resource allows one to submit subject entries and to ‘tweak’ existing entries. Subject areas are reviewed and policed by volunteers with expertise. This is not the place to explain the rules in detail, but the entries one puts up are subject to editing by peers and indeed rejection. Any entry requires to be grounded in fact, and buttressed by evidence in the form of references.
My brother Peter always planned to embed some of our findings in Wikipedia, but a letter on 11 April 2011 in the Guardian from a group of historians brought home to him to us the its potential. The historians argued that sharing their knowledge in Wikipedia and embedding references in Wikipedia allowed users access to high quality research, clearly written and downloadable. Once some dozens of appropriate links were added, the traffic to their online database of papers had increased significantly.
Peter therefore added relevant material inserting a number of references in existing articles. For an example, look up the biography of the Scottish singer Ian Wallace, and the references to the Ledlanet Nights Festival. Here and elsewhere we used as supporting evidence our website, newspaper reviews and some Ledlanet programmes. Our insertions were seemingly lightly edited – an alteration deleting the detail of roles, and subsituting “and other minor roles”. Irritatingly, one of the titles inserted was changed to one that was factually wrong!
What have the results been? Given that we have not yet had the time to add as many links as we’d like, we’ve had a steady drip feed of visitors – 145 in the few weeks since the first link was put in. But for a niche service such as the one we offer, it is quality that counts. Page views are high (5.8), the time visitors stay on our site is high (13.5minutes) and the bounce rate is low (26%). Clearly this situation is win-win. We are adding new material and making a contribution to the range and quality of Wikipedia entries, and in return get some high quality traffic. This experiment has encouraged us to continue as we build the quantity and quality of our content.
We appreciate that using Wikipedia will not suit everyone, but it works for us.