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Wikipedia: built on cooperation and collaboration

Wikipedia depends on collaboration for success (18 September 2008, Daily Trojan)

Professor Robert E. Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University discussed the factors that are involved in the success of online communities, and his own research into the coordination techniques of Wikipedia. Success in an online community can be defined in a number of ways, he said, but to succeed, online communities need to overcome challenges such as a lack of response to posts, recruiting members and welcoming newcomers. Focusing on Wikipedia, Kraut said that Wikipedia articles require “an awful lot of substantial coordination”, for example, in planning the article or dealing with disputes. There is explicit coordination (such as through planning and discussing) and implicit coordination (such as through structuring), he said, and the coordination work lies beneath the surface of the article.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online media include:

  • Defining the Bush Doctrine: Not as Simple as it Sounds (15 September 2008, The Wall Street Journal blogs)
    Sarah Palin’s gaffe focuses attention on the Bush Doctrine article.
  • Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales on wiki success and failure (11 September 2008, ZDNet blogs)
    Listen to a podcast where Jimmy Wales discusses the factors that lead to success or failure for a wiki, such as critical mass.
  • Wikipedia Sleuths Win Journalism Award for Wired.com (10 September 2008, Wired.com blogs)
    A Wired.com blog won an award for combining a voting widget with the WikiScanner application to let readers highlight self-interested edits to Wikipedia.
  • Vernon Kay shocked at death by Wikipedia (15 September 2008, TechRadar UK)
    Television host Vernon Kay has had his Wikipedia biography vandalised to say that he had died in a yachting accident, when he is perfectly well and alive.
  • Knol, the Wikipedia Maybe-Fork? (19 September 2008, Slashdot)
    The author of this article suggests that Google Knol accept CC-BY-SA contributions, so that once the GFDL is compatible with CC-BY-SA, copying to Knol will be completely above board; this will facilitate the creation of, effectively, flagged revisions of Wikipedia articles, supported by people’s reputations.
  • How Wikipedia Works (19 September 2008, Kansas City infoZine)
    This is a book review of the book How Wikipedia Works, written by a number of prominent Wikipedians.

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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You may know that I write for the Wikipedia Signpost, and recently, I wrote an article for it on the comparison between Wikipedia and Google Knol. In the end, the article I wrote was substantially overhauled by the editor because it was an opinion piece biased towards one view – intentionally. Although opinion sometimes does make it into the Signpost, the editor felt that was not the time nor place for it, and so he rewrote most of it in a more objective style. So it’s old news, but instead of wasting (somewhat) good prose, here it is:

Google usually makes a noisy entry wherever it dares to tread, and this week’s announcement of Knol, a site that will host user-generated articles was no different. Wikipedians, however, should have nothing to fear.

Knol, which is currently only accessible to a select few who have been invited, will be a site that hosts user-generated content on a wide range of subjects. The term knol was coined by Google to mean a unit of knowledge, and refers to the entire project as well as individual articles. While the jury is still out on whether Knol will be successful, or whether it will even make it to a public launch, the obvious comparison that has sparked the Internet alight is with Wikipedia.

There are some immediately apparent differences between Knol and Wikipedia. The most important one is that Knol is not a wiki. Content pages will be owned by a single author and that sole author has the responsibility of maintaining its content; users can participate by suggesting edits, or by rating or commenting on the article, but that’s about it. There is no Wikipedia-style collaboration model; in fact, it is difficult to see how there can be much of a strong community. The single author approach admittedly has its attractions, though; an author’s reputation lives and dies by his or her words, and this builds trust into the equation. However, as many have noted, this denies Knol one of the more valuable aspects of Wikipedia articles, that controversial articles are likely to have been edited by a variety of users who have had to compromise to produce a relatively neutral and balanced piece of work. The competition between different Knol pages will not necessarily result in greater utility for the end user.

This competition is what will define Knol, and this further differentiates it from Wikipedia. Writers of Knol content will have the ability to insert Google advertising into their pages and earn a cut of the resulting revenue. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is advertising-free, and the competition on this site, if you can call it that, is one more akin to a friendly meritocracy than the harsh world of chasing advertising dollars. Knol, from its very foundations, does not seem conducive to a community spirit, something that may keep editors on Wikipedia.

But maybe Google doesn’t need a sense of community. Cynically, all it needs is for people to link to Knol articles, have the pages appear close to the top of its widely-used search results and then have its advertising cash registers chinking; by comparison, sending people to Wikipedia does Google no direct financial favours. Wikipedia could lose out by having less incoming traffic, and therefore less exposure to new, potential editors.

Knol is an interesting idea that will surely stimulate debate about how the face of user-generated content should proceed. It currently appears as neither friend nor foe, but as another choice for users that will probably satisfy its own niche.

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