[iDC] Wikinomics and Wikimania
oxusnet at gmail.com
Fri Aug 24 10:17:47 UTC 2007
I was also at Wikimania in Taipei, and I think Adam's excellent
summary captured the spirit and the highlights of the event. I also
enjoyed the Citizen Media Unconference that was held the day before
Wikimania, but I particularly wanted to share my reaction to one
particular session on the changing nature of the Wikipedia community.
I wrote up my thoughts about this session here:
Below is the text without the hyperlinks:
Back in the old days, when Wikipedia was new, there were just a
handful of rules, and one of the key ones was "Ignore all rules." Or,
> If a rule prevents you from working with others to improve or maintain Wikipedia, ignore it.
Wikipedia has changed a lot since then. Just read Andrew Lih recount
his efforts to understand why a new article was rejected from
> Within one hour, a User:Chris9086 came by and slapped a "speedy delete" notice on the page. The "pink slip" read:
> This page may meet Wikipedia's criteria for speedy deletion. The given reason is: It is a very short article providing little or no context (CSD A1), contains no content whatsoever (CSD A3), consists only of links elsewhere (CSD A3) or a rephrasing of the title (CSD A3). Speedy concern: It is a very short article providing little or no context (CSD A1), contains no content whatsoever (CSD A3), consists only of links elsewhere (CSD A3) or a rephrasing of the title (CSD A3). If this page does not meet the criteria for speedy deletion, or you intend to fix it, please remove this notice, but do not remove this notice from pages that you have created yourself.
So we've gone from the days when people were encouraged to create stub
articles just to mark a subject as worthy of further work, to the
automatic deletion of articles based upon a lengthy list of criteria
for speedy deletion, each marked with its own code number.
Another example of the complicated bureaucratization of Wikipedia can
be found in this article about the correct procedures to follow in
order to fix inaccurate Wikipedia articles. What ever happened to the
Encyclopedia that anyone can edit?
This subject came up during Wikimania 2007, on a panel that Andrew
hosted entitled "The shifting nature of the community." There is no
official transcript yet, but there is a rough one on the talk page. As
I listened to the Wikipedia old-timers (most of whom are still quite
young) talk about these changes there were three points that stood
The first was that these problems are particular to the English
language Wikipedia and the experience of the various other language
wikis is quite different, in part because many of them are much
smaller and the community of editors is also much smaller.
The second was that, as Joseph Reagle pointed out, what Wikipedia is
going through is quite similar to the process of bureaucratization
described by Weber. He also pointed out the man behind the "ignore all
rules" rule, Larry Sanger, distanced himself from it, and with the
creation of Citizendium, is looking to limit some of these problems by
keeping the community much smaller [see Larry Sanger's comments
below]. For Reagle it makes sense that over time Wikipedia will need
its own Roberts Rules of Order and the solution is to think seriously
about what those rules should be.
A slightly different take on the same argument was put forward by
Wing, a Chinese Wikipedia administrator. Wing approached the topic not
from the point of view of the organization, but from that of the
references themselves. When Wikipedia first came along there was no
entry for dog, so someone could come along and write stub article
saying "A dog is an animal with four legs who goes 'bow wow.'" and
that was fine. Now, however, the Wikipedia page for dog is so detailed
with contributions from experts in a number of fields, so we don't
necessarily want just anyone to edit it without thinking seriously
about the impact of those changes.
The third point had to do with the user interface, and was raised both
by Anthere and myself (although my contribution didn't get recorded in
the transcript) during discussion, as well as by Andrew during his
initial presentation. Andrew had shown how in the early days the
markup for Wikipedia was quite simple, looking mostly like plain text
with a few added asterisk, brackets, etc. for bold, italics, and
links. Now, however, the complicated tables and templates which people
use makes it very hard to edit wikipedia if you haven't carefully
studied the code.
It was suggested that some of this might be fixed with a WYSIWYG
Wikipedia, but I think that this is thinking too small. One of the
presenters at the panel was Mike Godwin, who back in 1994 had written
an article entitled "Nine Principles for Making Virtual Communities
Work." In presenting them he glossed over the first one as "obvious"
but I don't think it is. That rule was:
> Use software that promotes good discussions.
What should be obvious to anyone who has used social software
extensively is that the social tools aspects of Wikipedia are grossly
underdeveloped. That doesn't mean that there aren't solutions out
there. Already people are developing software to color code edits
based on reputation. And since a lot of the problems are related to
worries about SPAM (a problem which has led me to abandon using wikis
for my own projects), better spam controls are essential for the
survival of Wikipedia. One interesting tool is Wikiscanner, "a new
Wikipedia search tool … [which] scours all the IP addresses associated
with Wikipedia edits and attempts to figure out which edits have been
made from within government agencies, corporations, ad agencies,
political campaigns and so on."
The future of Wikipedia will clearly require both better social
organization and better software, and the two are likely to develop in
tandem with each other. Despite its growing pains, there is nothing
quite like Wikipedia and I'm sure it will only get better.
P. Kerim Friedman, Ph.D.
Department of Indigenous Cultures
College of Indigenous Studies
National DongHwa University, TAIWAN
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