Wikipedia, had in July 2010 over 12 million users and 3.5 million articles ( see latest Wikipedia Stats) and was the 4th most visited website on the planet (see latest data from Google’s AdPlanner). It is at the same time a prototypical social media site. It is user generated and run. It allows (at least in theory) any reader to improve (or vandalize) the content she is looking at by providing access to any visitor an editing interface. It permits other sites, such as Answers.com, to use its content as it voraciously links to or incorporates content from other sites.
It’s success is even more significant and representative for the social media revolution because it was, at least initially, entirely due to the voluntary contributions of its members. Even now, Wikipedia only has about 40 paid staffers and its infrastructure is supported from grants and donations. There are no ads on Wikipedia, nor is the site sponsored by any commercial entity. The social processes that make Wikipedia successful have miffed many. Its open source, free, copy-left software allows anyone with an idea to propose a new extension or tool to be added to Wikipedia’s arsenal of extensions and utilities.
How does Wikipedia actually work? What keeps it ticking? What motivates its individuals? How are the efforts of millions of contributors coordinated? How are conflicts mediated and solved? Who sets Wikipedia’s policy? To what effect?
Early propositions of purported “wisdom of crowds” built on top of the Cathedral and the Bazaar ideology. According to this vision, expressed in the popular press, on Wikipedia individuals contribute their share not by explicit coordination or by taking their cue from official leaders and content curators, but by observing what their immediate neighbors do. Collaboration on Wikipedia is said to be locally, rather than globally coordinated and the coordination mechanisms are not dissimilar to those use by schools of fish or flocks of birds.
More recent research has unveiled, however, a complex hierarchy, with a byzantine rule making process. Albeit temporary and forever changing, bureaucratic positions and roles have emerged on Wikipedia, through which real power and consequential decisions are made. Users are often motivated not only by altruism, but also by specific agendas, which can be monetary, political, or cultural. In a word, Wikipedia is a complex environment, where as Terentius would’ve put it, nothing human is strange to it.
Conference on Supporting Group Work archive, Proceedings of the 2005 international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work table of contents, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA, SESSION: Net communities table of contents, Pages: 1 – 10 Year of Publication: 2005, ISBN:1-59593-223-2, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1099203.1099205
Traditional activities change in surprising ways when computer-mediated communication becomes a component of the activity system. In this descriptive study, we leverage two perspectives on social activity to understand the experiences of individuals who became active collaborators in Wikipedia, a prolific, cooperatively-authored online encyclopedia. Legitimate peripheral participation provides a lens for understanding participation in a community as an adaptable process that evolves over time. We use ideas from activity theory as a framework to describe our results. Finally, we describe how activity on the Wikipedia stands in striking contrast to traditional publishing and suggests a new paradigm for collaborative systems.
Kriplean et al., Community, consensus, coercion, control: cs*w or how policy mediates mass participation
Conference on Supporting Group Work archive, Proceedings of the 2007 international ACM conference on, Supporting group work table of contents, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA, SESSION: Dealing with dependencies, Pages: 167-176 , Year of Publication: 2007, ISBN:978-1-59593-845-9, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1316624.1316648
When large groups cooperate, issues of conflict and control surface because of differences in perspective. Managing such diverse views is a persistent problem in cooperative group work. The Wikipedian community has responded with an evolving body of policies that provide shared principles, processes, and strategies for collaboration. We employ a grounded approach to study a sample of active talk pages and examine how policies are employed as contributors work towards consensus. Although policies help build a stronger community, we find that ambiguities in policies give rise to power plays. This lens demonstrates that support for mass collaboration must take into account policy and power.
The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation
Jennifer Preece and Ben Shneidermann
AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (1) 1, pp. 13-32
Billions of people participate in online social activities. Most users participate as readers of discussion boards, searchers of blog posts, or viewers of photos. A fraction of users become contributors of user-generated content by writing consumer product reviews, uploading travel photos, or expressing political opinions. Some users move beyond such individual efforts to become collaborators, forming tightly connected groups with lively discussions whose outcome might be a Wikipedia article or a carefully edited YouTube video. A small fraction of users becomes leaders, who participate in governance by setting and upholding policies, repairing vandalized materials, or mentoring novices. We analyze these activities and offer the Reader-to-Leader Framework with the goal of helping researchers, designers, and managers understand what motivates technology-mediated social participation. This will enable them to improve interface design and social support for their companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations. These improvements could reduce the number of failed projects, while accelerating the application of social media for national priorities such as healthcare, energy sustainability, emergency response, economic development, education, and more.
This paper discusses how one of the most important Wikipedia policies, the “neutral point of view “ (NPOV), is appropriated and interpreted by the participants in the Wikipedia project. By analyzing a set of constitutive documents for the Wikipedian universe, including discussion about NPOV, the authors conclude that ambiguity is at the heart of the policy process on Wikipedia. The overarching conclusion is that ambiguity on Wikipedia is not extraneous, but a central ingredient of this wiki project’s policy making. Ambiguity naturally develops from the pluralist and non-hierarchic values of the culture that brought Wikipedia to life, and this conclusion requires that we reconsider the nature of “neutrality” practiced on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia has been a resounding success story as a collaborative system with a low cost of online participation. However, it is an open question whether the success of Wikipedia results from a “wisdom of crowds” type of effect in which a large number of people each make a small number of edits, or whether it is driven by a core group of “elite” users who do the lion’s share of the work. In this study we examined how the influence of “elite” vs. “common” users changed over time in Wikipedia. The results suggest that although Wikipedia was driven by the influence of “elite” users early on, more recently there has been a dramatic shift in workload to the “common” user. We also show the same shift in del.icio.us, a very different type of social collaborative knowledge system. We discuss how these results mirror the dynamics found in more traditional social collectives, and how they can influence the design of new collaborative knowledge systems.
Aniket Kittur and Robert Kraut
Beyond Wikipedia: coordination and conflict in online production groups
Computer Supported Cooperative Work archive, Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work table of contents, Savannah, Georgia, USA, SESSION: Social software engineering table of contents, Pages: 215-224, Year of Publication: 2010
Online production groups have the potential to transform the way that knowledge is produced and disseminated. One of the most widely used forms of online production is the wiki, which has been used in domains ranging from science to education to enterprise. We examined the development of and interactions between coordination and conflict in a sample of 6811 wiki production groups. We investigated the influence of four coordination mechanisms: intra-article communication, inter-user communication, concentration of workgroup structure, and policy and procedures. We also examined the growth of conflict, finding the density of users in an information space to be a significant predictor. Finally, we analyzed the effectiveness of the four coordination mechanisms on managing conflict, finding differences in how each scaled to large numbers of contributors. Our results suggest that coordination mechanisms effective for managing conflict are not always the same as those effective for managing task quality, and that designers must take into account the social benefits of coordination mechanisms in addition to their production benefits.
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