Good Faith Collaboration: How Wikipedia works

Discuss

31 Responses to “Good Faith Collaboration: How Wikipedia works”

  1. EeyoreX says:

    “Reagle, an avid wikipedian himself, nevertheless takes up an objective distance
    (citation needed)
    See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tract_(literature)

    “I’m always amazed by critics who characterize Wikipedia as a hopeless quagmire of argument — there’s certainly a lot of argument there, but hopeless? If it’s so hopeless, how did those millions of articles get written and edited?

    Rethorical question?
    Short, somewhat arrogant, dismissive answer: The monkeys and typewiters analogy works on finite numbers too, provided the numbers are big enough.
    See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

    Somwhat longer, somewhat more serious answer: The “good faith” described here is a self-serving definition made by those who have managed to thrive within Wikipedias pecking order. Those one-time contributors who have been scared away over the years by Wikipedias strange mix of majoritarianism and formalities would probably hold a different bias, if you would ask them.

    But then, history always written by the victors: endurance games are won by those who care most passionately, or those who simply have the most free time on their hands.
    And as a result, Wikipedia is at present the Internet’s foremost collection of definitions, trivia and minutiae, I grant that. But on any issue that contains so much as a fragment of controversy – weather it´s Israel vs Palestine or Edison vs Tesla -, you´re still better of just asking Google.

    And ironically, with Wikipedias trademark disdain for original research and ever increasing demand for citation, isn’t that the shape Wikipedia is ultimatly headed towards: just another searchable collection of hyperlinks? Not a rethorical question.

    See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochlocracy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_in_culture#Wikiality

    • Goblin says:

      EeyoreX +1

      “Social Influence Peddling” or this new-born form of passionate and self-righteous expression over the web is going to be the greatest challenge for the future development of the medium.

      At what point does the pursuit of individual or collective passion(s) turn into a perverted form of social censorship? Where virtual domains are politically charged and any dissenting opinion is drummed out without recourse (Think of Sarah Palin’s Facebook page as the most obvious and most telling example)

      Definitely going to add this to my reading list.

      • EeyoreX says:

        Hm. Not entirely sure that I understand your point, Goblin.

        The fact that an individual or collective cares passionately about something does not in itself make that something more true, nor does it make it relevant outside of that clique. Yet the social structures of Wikipedia are hardwired to award passion and dedication over knowledge and moderation.

        Any situation where different interests meet, online or otherwise, is “politically charged” and if we want to adress this as a problem, we must first acknowledge that it exists.

        As for Sarah Palin, she has over 2 million Facebook friends. How does that enter into it? Does it make her better or worse in any way?

        • Goblin says:

          I haven’t given you enough to go on.

          I am NOT at any point debating the merits of something being “more” true then the next. As far as the internet goes “Truth” is always a matter of degree. I am expressly concerned with a clique’s interpretation of that truth and how much power it should have over it’s domain. Is there any public utility to a publicly available webpage? The current models, wikipedia included meter in a certain amount of corporate interest (which is what the book is about) however such system as of now does not appear address the broader ideals of “Public utility” (Disclaimer: I haven’t yet read the book)

          “The fact that an individual or collective cares passionately about something does not in itself make that something more true, nor does it make it relevant outside of that clique.”

          Exactly, but the there is no express prohibition for a clique “outsider” to post something on a “clique” website. Should GroupThink hold sway here? This is especially true over matters of policy and politics. What is more important, the webpages political (or technical etc.) views or the concern raised from someone who is perhaps just passingly familar with the system of policy? Does that mean they have nothing meaningful to contribute?

          “Yet the social structures of Wikipedia are hardwired to award passion and dedication over knowledge and moderation.”

          I agree, and I am expanding this line of reasoning farther then just wikipedia. It goes for the rest of the internet as well. It takes a great deal of passion to create any content with any regularity. Indeed the constant cycling of the internet means that things constantly need to be “updated.” and and anything short of pure devotion will find you slipping into the “hasn’t recently updated” column of disinterest.

          “As for Sarah Palin, she has over 2 million Facebook friends. How does that enter into it? Does it make her better or worse in any way?”

          So you aren’t aware of the fact Sarah Palin’s page is constantly combed for dissenting questions and opinions and that those opinions are then “Moderated” or more bluntly stated they are Deleted. Is Sarah Palin’s passion for her own public image allowable in this instance?

          I chose Palin since she is an obvious example but most websites and forums have “moderation polices” and these vary widely. I am just interested if you think this actually impinges on “free speech.” After all her site is a “public site” but it behaves like a “private party” Which wins out? Public interest or Individual self interest. It’s the same question every website or profile must at the moment determine for itself. However if we lean towards the Palin model on a large number of websites then don’t we now have a Free Speech Issue?

          • EeyoreX says:

            It would seem to me that we actually agree on my central point, i.e. that the social structures of Wikipedia are hardwired to award passion and dedication rather than knowledge and moderation. And I agree that the same goes for most of the internet.

            But I think that’s mostly a problem in those situations when we were led to belive something else, wich is very much the case with Wikipedia. It is beeing sold to us as “the encyclopedia that anybody can edit” but in reality only those prepaired to invest ridiculous amounts of time and energy in fighting for their edits need apply.

            On the other hand, Sara Palins facebook page belongs to Facebook and to Sarah Palin. Whatever they do in there is up to their own discression, since it´s their domain. Allthough censorship usually is contraproductive for your PR in the long run.

          • Kieran O'Neill says:

            “It is beeing sold to us as “the encyclopedia that anybody can edit” but in reality only those prepared to invest ridiculous amounts of time and energy in making well-researched, well-written edits need apply. ”

            Fixed that for you.

            But yeah, what you said about Palin’s Facebook page being her business, and nothing like Wikipedia.

        • Kieran O'Neill says:

          “The fact that an individual or collective cares passionately about something does not in itself make that something more true, nor does it make it relevant outside of that clique. Yet the social structures of Wikipedia are hardwired to award passion and dedication over knowledge and moderation.”

          This is a bit better articulated. I’ll acknowledge that passion and dedication can produce more text, or cause people to win out in trivial edit wars (the kind where nobody bothers to actually look things up). But as I mentioned in my previous reply, facts dispassionately stated and referenced to reliable sources win out in the end. And the process of finding those and writing them up is intrinsically dispassionate.

          • Goblin says:

            “facts dispassionately stated and referenced to reliable sources win out in the end.”

            This may be true with academic papers online and otherwise, but things are different “on the street.” Your comments work well within a governed system like a wiki, but they lose import when they go to the internet at large. Partisan Bloggers should be proof enough that the “dispassionate truth” doesn’t necessarily win out in the larger hyperlinked environment.

  2. Gregory Kohs says:

    If you read the Amazon book reviews, you can pretty much tell that the book stinks. Not only that, I did an experiment… I live in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania. It is also in the top 5% of counties in population, overall, in the nation. I checked out the county’s single copy of Reagle’s book from the library back in October. I’ve been able to keep renewing it ever since, because not a single soul has wanted to read this book so much that they’d put a hold order on it.

    • Kieran O'Neill says:

      I have read the Amazon book reviews, and the only negative one was written by you (and generally not considered helpful).

      Your “experiment” is also laughably spurious.

      I take it you are this Gregory Kohs, and as such have a very specific and personal axe to grind with Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia?

      But thank-you. Your hilariously sad attempts at dragging this book through the mud have led me to an interesting point made in one of those reviews, that the Wikipedia model is similar to the decision making system used by the Quakers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If you replace “wikipedia” with “pirate party germany” it still is true – amazing

  4. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately the book is anything but objective. If it were then he’d have focussed a bit on the vicious and nasty edit wars that permeate the entire site.

  5. karl_jones says:

    “Collectivist” and “marred by individualism”?

    Something for every ideologue to hate!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Reagle obviously did ignore German wikipedia.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Reagle obviously did ignore German wikipedia.”

      As well as the Scandinavian versions, wich are basically ruled by trolls who got there early. They even erase stuff cribbed directly from the english version, just for the lulz.

  7. freshacconci says:

    I’ll be reading this for sure. As a proud Wikipedian of four years, Cory’s summary of Reagle’s thesis reflects my own feelings towards Wikipedia. It really is the infrastructure that makes it all so fascinating. And to the many detractors of every political stripe, Wikipedia must be doing something right, even if it is a sprawling beast. The fact is, there is a functioning and useful encyclopedia there and no, it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

  8. Kieran O'Neill says:

    All hail WP:FAITH!

    And I second freshacconci.

    Having been involved with Wikipedia for some 6 years now, and having even gone through some of the more contentious decision making processes, I’ve become increasingly aware that it it is also a giant socio-political experiment, through which a form of governance has evoled that is neither anarchy nor democracy, nor anything quite seen before. And, though messy, it works.

    I wonder if anyone is researching the implications for governance in society at large, or if Reagle discusses this in his thesis…

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m in those “first thousand edits” a few times. I imagine I wrote a hundred or so Wikipedia articles before the project turned into what it is now.

    It used to be a way to contribute to the Internet community that was painless, self-correcting and rewarding. Now, it’s a painful, self-censoring and frustrating experience, so I’ve stopped doing it.

    If I had become part of the cabal, instead of just contributing anonymously from various IPs, I’d be a powerful dickhead at Wikipedia today, I guess. I could push my own political and social viewpoints through a guise of “editing” and “NPOV” just like the hardcases.

    • Kieran O'Neill says:

      Funnily enough, writing well is a painful, self-censoring and frustrating experience.

      As for “the cabal”: My personal experience, having been involved with many volunteer organisations from student newspapers to small cooperatives to Wikipedia, is that any person’s level of power or authority in the community is proportional to the amount of effort they put in.

      • Goblin says:

        “As for “the cabal”: My personal experience, having been involved with many volunteer organisations from student newspapers to small cooperatives to Wikipedia, is that any person’s level of power or authority in the community is proportional to the amount of effort they put in.”

        Have you considered this in light of a politician and their legion of helping hands? There is nothing stopping a group of people from acting as an “individual”. So yes they have more “effort” in the project but does this hydra of an individual persona (like Sarah Palin’s online presense) deserve the outsized influence to the point of censoring dissenting opinions?

  10. Kieran O'Neill says:

    1. “Tract”: Wikipedia as religious cult? That’s a new one.

    2. “Hundredth Monkey Effect”: Pretty solidly disproven, AFAIK. How does this pseudoscience apply here?

    3. “Good faith”:

    OED version:
    “a. good faith: fidelity, loyalty (= sense 10); esp. honesty of intention in entering into engagements, sincerity in professions”

    Wikipedia version:

    “Good faith, or in Latin bona fides (bona fide means “in good faith”), is good, honest intention (even if producing unfortunate results) or belief.”

    I’m not seeing how the Wikipedia version is “is a self-serving definition made by those who have managed to thrive within Wikipedias pecking order”.

    4. Contentious issues: I don’t think coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is any worse than might be expected of an ongoing and controversial historical event. The Tesla-Edison conflict doesn’t look too bad either.

    5. Citing sources and original research: These are long-standing principles, going back to the early days of Wikipedia. They are also exactly what counteracts “mob rule” and “wikiality”. Factual points made from reliable sources remain, no matter what is thought of them.

    6. “Searchable collection of hyperlinks”. Ever heard of review papers?

    • freshacconci says:

      And, I might add, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It’s a tertiary source. Expecting to find an editorial position on a controversial topic such as Israel-Palestinian issue would be inappropriate for an encyclopedia.

    • EeyoreX says:

      1. Not really such a new or original one, you ought to have heard it from someone else by now. Or maybe pro-wikians only consort with other pro-wikians, wich would make all this kinda ironic, dont’cha think?

      2. That was just an attempt at humor, poking fun at the often erratic “see also”-lnikage that have become all the rage lately. Moving on.

      3. Joseph Reagle Jr is writing the history of the project, as told by those still remaining within the project – not really taking into account the feelings and attitudes of the numerous amount of people who at one time or another have written entrys, had had them deleted, and subesequently have distanced themselves from Wikipedia. Were those people not part of Wikipedia?
      If the aim of the study is to define “wikipedia culture” and how it works, then he is actually only telling half the story, and “good faith” becomes a mere buzzword since it´s used only by those still remaining within that culture.

      4. Contentious issues: Yeah, the Israel-Palestine conflict was not such a good example, that was just off-the-cuff. After all, some 300+ guards are “watching” that particular page, so it´s only been “vandalized” half a dozen times during the last few months.
      You could probably help me find a better example, I understand Wikipedia even maintains a continously growing list of “lame edit wars”.
      Still, my point here actually is that I can’t ever depend on whatever is on the page before I’ve taken a deep plunge into the “history” of the page, so Google is still the better option.

      5. “Factual points made from reliable sources remain, no matter what is thought of them” This is where it gets really confusing to me, because then there is this next point:

      6. “Ever heard of review papers?”
      Yes, I hear review papers are where primary sources are evaluated on grounds of relevancy, amongst other things. But from point 5 i gather that any stated and proven fact is relevant no matter what is thought of them. So wich is it?

      • Kieran O'Neill says:

        1. Maybe I should rephrase that – it’s just such a poorly conceived and utterly incredible idea that I was astonished anyone would invest any credence in it.

        And “pro-wikians”? Huh? I contribute to the project, from time to time, and I think it is worthwhile. But your phraseology sounds very “us vs them”, which makes little sense to me in this context. Do you consider yourself an “anti-wikian”?

        3. Wikipedia, like most other publications, has guidelines on what is acceptable material, and how material should be presented. Do you think that editors who contribute once, without reading those guidelines, have their contributions reverted or deleted, then go into a huff and leave were ever “within the culture” to begin with? If they left in a huff, it doesn’t seem likely that they assumed good faith on the part of the people reverting or deleting their contributions.

        4. Personally I prefer the references section to the history as a measure of quality, and I assess that on a statement-by-statement basis.

        But this goes doubly for anything you pick up from a Google search.

        5+6. Short answer: The first, and your definition of a review paper is wrong.

        If you make a relevant statement on Wikipedia, and reference it to a reliable source where the point was originally made, it will remain. And no, a review paper is not an evaluation of sources’ relevancy, it is a comprehensive review of the literature within a specific subfield. As such, it includes a balanced summary of contentious topics, stating the points and conjecture made by all researchers involved.

        A review paper is also not just a collection of hyperlinks, and I provided it as a better example of what Wikipedia articles are heading towards.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Reagle’s book is not a critique of Wikipedia—it is a mash note. Reagle is a disaster when it comes to open discussion of the fundamentally hostile, manipulative, and dishonest culture of Wikipedia. He blew it.

    If you would prefer to see a more forthright and nuanced view of Wikipedia’s internals, you might try certain subforums on Wikipedia Review.
    The Notable Editors area is full of horror stories of crazed WP insiders manipulating the system to control it–and to abuse anyone who disagrees with their POV-pushing. It’s a sick society, and the worst part of this sickness: these people refuse to admit there is a “problem”. Reagle is just the latest fool to fall for the “Jimbo Magic”.

    http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showforum=57

    • Kieran O'Neill says:

      Seriously? That looks about as forthright and nuanced as Something Awful. A cursory browse turned up plenty of vitriol and very little substance.

  12. Anonymous says:

    (From Peter Damian)

    I contributed to Wikipedia for many years – most of my articles are still there, although many badly vandalised.

    Editing on Wikipedia is a painful and horrible experience, particularly in the area in which I have most experience (I have a doctorate in philosophy). Perhaps the pain would not matter if the end-product justified it. But most of the articles in my subject area are a complete mess. As are nearly all of the articles in the area of soft sciences and humanities. I have written about this extensively here http://ocham.blogspot.com/search?q=wikipedia

  13. karl_jones says:

    It is beeing sold to us as “the encyclopedia that anybody can edit” but in reality only those prepaired to invest ridiculous amounts of time and energy in fighting for their edits need apply.

    That’s true of contentious articles, but most articles are non-contentious.

    Most of my Wikipedia edits are pretty simple: fixing typographic and grammatical errors, improving style for readability, adding links to relevant articles.

    I’ve added very little that might be construed as “new content” — which is to be expected, at this stage in Wikipedia’s life.

    Consequently, I almost never meet resistance to my edits.

  14. Anonymous says:

    @Cory, thank you for the review! @Kieran, I try to be careful about generalizing from Wikipedia to society at large, but you can find some discussion of this in Alexis Madrigal’s “In Rancorous Times, Can Wikipedia Show Us How to All Get Along?”

    Also, I recommend people check out the book’s web site (which has free chapters, links to reviews, interviews, etc.)
    http://reagle.org/joseph/2010/gfc/

  15. teflon says:

    Interestingly, I have recently heard from a (usually) reliable source who is privy to such information, that in the last year or so the majority of Wikipedia edits are being done by intelligence services, domestic and foreign. Do what you want with this information. Only repeating a shocking statement from a source who should (in theory) be “in the know”.

  16. andygates says:

    I’ll have to add this to my reading list. The witchy way that “assume good faith” seems to get results where a cynic would expect chaos fascinates and captivates me.

Leave a Reply