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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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Just last week I slapped on the “moved house” tags on my old site at intrepix​.tri​pod​.com — yes, well over three months after I got this domain. Call it lazi­ness. But what actu­ally took me so long is that I wasn’t quite happy about how this site had turned out, so I wasn’t pre­pared to call this “home” just yet. What wasn’t I happy about? Well for one, I missed the design of the old site — the col­ours and the gradi­ent fills had been tweaked until I could call it per­fect. The new “envir­on­ment­al­ist” look on this site was designed with min­im­al­ism in mind, but I don’t think that suits me well. The new jazzed up home page sports some fancy trans­par­ency and css effects, but my wiki still looks rather util­it­ari­an I must say.

So why don’t I simply do some­thing about it? Sup­pose we have a util­ity func­tion U that factors in P, the pleas­ure I get from view­ing a beau­ti­ful design, and E, the effort that it takes to cre­ate said beau­ti­ful design. 😛 I’d say we’re stuck at the first hump, a loc­al max­im­um.

function.png

What’s left to do: cre­ate pages on the wiki for past and present pro­jects, pret­ti­fy the wiki, add more inter­sec­tion links

(Just a thought: I’m begin­ning to think my writ­ing style is too stiff and rigid and verb­ose. Per­haps it’s just that noth­ing I write can com­pare with some of the stuff I reg­u­larly read.)

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