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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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Wikimedia: maturing and professionalising

Wikimedia pegs future on education, not profit (24 August 2008, San Francisco Chronicle)

Sue Gardner, Wikimedia’s executive director, expresses surprise at the misunderstandings that people have about Wikimedia. As a charity, Wikimedia is not seeking to profit from the billions of dollars that some say could be earned from placing advertisements on its projects’ websites. Recently, Wikimedia moved its headquarters to San Francisco, and the move, Gardner says, was because of the area’s “tech talent”; the organisation’s core staff has now increased to 21. Jimmy Wales credits Gardner with professionalising Wikimedia, instituting competent and sound management. Gardner’s goals for the future include increasing participation, improving quality and making Wikipedia available in a variety of formats. On the other hand, Ed Chi, the creator of WikiDashboard, says that there has been a decline in interest in editing that does not bode well for the community.

US Vice-Presidential candidates with groomed articles

McCain camp touts Biden praise ahead of speech (27 August 2008, TheHill.com)

Bloggers have noticed changes to Joseph Biden’s Wikipedia article as news of his Vice-Presidential nomination was leaking out. For instance, bloggers say that the section about his involvement in the 2004 presidential campaign was deleted. Also, details of Biden’s undergraduate studies and allegations of plagiarism were said to have disappeared from his Wikipedia biography. The article raises the question of whether Barrack Obama’s campaign or the Democratic National Committee changed the article, given the timing of the edits.

Don’t Like Palin’s Wikipedia Story? Change It (31 August 2008, The New York Times)

A Wikipedia user called YoungTrigg made a number of edits to Sarah Palin’s article before the announcement of her nomination as the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate; the username is a reference to her infant son Trig. The edits, which added compelling stories about her upbringing and positive comments about her political career, were in fact rewarded with a Barnstar, and the editor made contact with other Wikipedia editors. In particular, YoungTrigg asked an anonymous editor where he or she had heard about Palin being McCain’s choice, possibly because, as the article suggests, YoungTrigg had an interest in whether the news had leaked already. However, later, another user came along to tone down the additions that seem biased. Ultimately, YoungTrigg, who denied relation to the Palin family, has now retired from Wikipedia.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online press include:

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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Jimbo writes about the freedom that Wikipedia brings

The wisdom of crowds – Wikipedia’s founder writes about what he sees as the fruits of the change inspired by Wikipedia. Although humans can be portrayed as “irrational captives to their background and identity”, Wales argues that it is possible for objective collaboration to occur if the lens of irrationality and conflict is abandoned and we accept non-initiation of force as a fundamental principle. He believes that rationality will prevail, thereby preserving the best aspects of our culture and permitting participation to thrive in the developing world. The open processes of Wikipedia, where you are likely to be challenged if there are flaws in your argument, epitomise the “virtue of the marketplace of ideas”, he says.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online media include:

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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Naked short selling drama retold

Wikipedia kills Greatest Show On Earth – “[T]here was an Wikinvestigation. And a Wikicourtcase. Like we said, Wikimadness.” Patrick Byrne has been waging a battle against naked short selling for some years, and together with Judd Bagley, he has accused financial journalist Gary Weiss of gaming Wikipedia to discredit his views on naked shorting. Bagley has been banned from editing, but Byrne and Bagley have accused Weiss of editing Wikipedia under various accounts. When there was “significant evidence that tied these accounts to a real-life identity”, there was an investigation, and after further sockpuppetry, the madness was put to an end.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online media include:

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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Wikis knocking on the iron gates of Oxford

Andrew Keen on New Media – Recently, Internet commentator Andrew Keen was at Oxford University together with Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger to debate whether “the internet is the future of knowledge”. Keen notes that it was ironic for the discussion – including discussion of whether the internet was democratising the creation and distribution of knowledge – to have occurred at Oxford, a representative of the “ivory tower business model for knowledge”. He notes that establishment of Oxford University by a wealthy landowner contrasts with the origins of Wikipedia, and sites like Wikipedia and Citizendium are driving the adoption of wikis, podcasts and blogs, even by traditional knowledge companies. Keen found the response of Oxford faculty and students to the democratic potential of the internet enthusiastic and “anything but snooty”.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in online media include:

From the Wikipedia Signpost.

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High-school students study course on Wikipedia

HSC students to get Wikipedia course – As of next year, the English curriculum for students sitting for the Higher School Certificate, which is taken in New South Wales, Australia, will incorporate an elective called “Global Village”, which will include the option of studying Wikipedia. Explaining the choice of Wikipedia, the English inspector at the Board of Studies, which oversees the HSC, said that Wikipedia reflects “notions of the global village”, and that the course will allow students to examine communications on a global scale. There has been a positive response from education.au, a not-for-profit educational organisation that brought Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to Australia on a speaking engagement last year. The CEO of education.au, Greg Black, said that young people need to learn how to understand and contextualise the information they gather on the Internet and to determine “whether there’s an alternative view”.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online press include:

  • Clinton’s entry in Wikipedia has a watchdog – One of the editors watching over Hillary Clinton’s Wikipedia biography has been brought unexpected celebrity and is profiled by this article.
  • The Wiki business plan – Sue Gardner and Kul Wadhwa talk about growth plans for Wikimedia, the business side of the foundation, and future opportunities.
  • REPN TRI to the FULLEST!!! – “[A]s a model of discourse, it’s a killjoy”; this author believes that the style of the prose on Wikipedia is apt to lead students to believe that intellectual discourse is “leaden” and “spiritless”.


As published in the Wikipedia Signpost

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(As you may know, I write the “In the news” section for the Wikipedia Signpost. From this week onwards, I’ll be posting up the ITN section on my blog as well as having it published in the Signpost.)

Professor says Wikipedia crowds out expert knowledge

Wikipedia breeds ‘unwitting trust’ says IT professor – Deakin University associate professor Sharman Lichtenstein believes that the increasing use of Wikipedia creates blind trust in information, to the detriment of valuable knowledge and expert opinion. She says that Australians already disrespect intellectuals and academics, but she asks us to consider whether we would use a trained brain surgeon or a student who has just read Wikipedia for brain surgery. She notes that Wikipedia prides itself on being built by groups of lay citizens, and experts are unlikely to contribute anyway because they would expect to be paid. Credibility of Wikipedia articles is questioned because of the formation of “elite” editors and administrators, a trend that has caused growing dissatisfaction with Wikipedia’s editorial process, leading others to create competitors to Wikipedia.

Other mentions

Other recent mentions in the online media include:

  • Wikipedia’s Zealots – An editor who receives personal communication about a scientist’s views on global warming edits Wikipedia to include these communications but is reverted by other editors.
  • Scientific citations in Wikipedia – The pattern of citations on Wikipedia is compared with the Journal Citation Reports, which counts journal citations; Wikipedia is increasingly using structured citation markup.

[As published in the Wikipedia Signpost]

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The Wikipedia Signpost is calling for authors for the tutorial series that we have been running as we have used up our current pool of tutorials! This is your opportunity to write for Wikipedia’s community newspaper, and contribute to a growing collection of tutorial articles currently ranging from fundamentals of editing to image maps and Wikipedia policy. We have a number of exciting topics just waiting to be written about, but if you are passionate or have experience in another area, you can come up with a new topic and write about that too! Regardless of what you write about, your tutorial contribution will allow editors – new and old – to edit Wikipedia more effectively.

See Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/Tutorial series if you would like to contribute to the Signpost tutorial series.

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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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The SUITS seminar series aims to provide a casual lunchtime chat about interesting topics and cutting-edge research, and I had the privilege of taking the first one… and I took the chance to talk about Wikipedia, everyone’s favourite wiki. The audience is intended to be undergraduate level, but there weren’t any undergraduates there…

I gave a brief insider’s look at Wikipedia, showing off some of the administrator tools that ordinary users cannot see. I went over some of the parts of the website (community portals, the Signpost, policy pages, special pages) that are important tools for regular contributors, especially in keeping track of vandalism. I also mentioned the efforts under way to form the local chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Because if I talk for too long, people might die from boredom (!!) so I brought along some light entertainment. I played a bit of Eben Moglen’s lecture on GPLv3 – the part about the arithmetic shop. I was going to play video from Wikimania 2007, but the lazy buggers haven’t put up anything yet, so I had to be content with 2006 stuff – but it turned out to be a good choice. Lawrence Lessig is a fantastic speaker – he speaks with conviction and there’s no one who can match his slides. Finally, I played a bit of audio from the Wikipedia Weekly, broadcasting from Taiwan during the conference.

Some of the questions I hadn’t really prepared for – e.g. a question on patents. I should know more than what I managed to mumble out… and no, I still haven’t learnt that presenting without much sleep isn’t good.

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