Be nice: Wikipedia norms for supportive communication

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Be nice: Wikipedia norms for supportive communication
Authors: Joseph M. Reagle [edit item]
Citation: New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia 16 : 161-180. 2010.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
Database(s):
DOI: 10.1080/13614568.2010.498528.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
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Be nice: Wikipedia norms for supportive communication is a publication by Joseph M. Reagle.


[edit] Abstract

Wikipedia is acknowledged to have been home to "some bitter disputes". Indeed, conflict at Wikipedia is said to be "as addictive as cocaine". Yet such observations are not cynical commentary but motivation for a collection of social norms. These norms speak to the intentional stance and communicative behaviors Wikipedians should adopt when interacting with one another. In the following pages I provide a survey of these norms on the English Wikipedia and argue that they can be characterized as supportive based on Jack Gibb's classic communication article "Defensive Communication".

[edit] Research questions

"I argue that the surveyed Wikipedia norms, captured in a collection of over one hundred pages about contributor conduct, provide a supportive communicative environment as specified by Gibb (1961); on the whole, they encourage non-judgmental description, a problem orientation, spontaneity, empathy, equality, and provisionalism."

Research details

Topics: Policies and governance [edit item]
Domains: Communications [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Main topic [edit item]
Theories: "Undetermined" [edit item]
Research design: Content analysis [edit item]
Data source: Wikipedia pages [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: Cross-sectional [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Article [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: Live Wikipedia [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: Collaboration and coordination, Conflict resolution [edit item]
Wikipedia language: English [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"First, Wikipedia, with its hundreds of norms, might be representative of a new type of large and verbose online community where such an undertaking is necessary to properly appreciate the scope of the community and its culture. Also, such an undertaking might reveal new questions for researchers. For example, the ambiguities and conflicts in the notion of neutrality, the recurrent motif of conflict and drama as being addictive and intoxicating, and the role of humor and sarcasm all merit further investigation. Second, a fuller understanding of norms at Wikipedia might help one undertake comparative studies of wiki communities. For example, ‘‘Assume Good Faith’’ not only appears to be policy throughout most Wikimedia Foundation projects, but can also be found on the Meatball wiki, wikiHow, and Battlestar Wiki. Wookiepedia (the Star Wars focused encyclopedia) does not have its own ‘‘Assume Good Faith’’ policy, but links to the English Wikipedia from its ‘‘No Personal Attacks’’ page (Wookieepedia 2009). One might soon be able to compare different communities’ collections of prosocial norms, and how they emerge and diverge within the larger wiki ecology. Third, gems of collaborative wisdom might be encountered and adopted by practitioners, as Wikipedia norms can also be ‘‘a great way to end an argument in real life’’ (Wikipedia 2006d). For example, based on this work I make use of Wikipedia conflict and its prosocial norms in a university course on conflict management. Students find the Wikipedia context surprising, but they find the norms to be highly relevant to their own interactions both online and offline. It is not that any particular norm is wholly novel, but the collection as a whole is rather comprehensive and surprisingly reflective of conflict management best practices. Finally, while Gibb’s environments are dated, I expect they remain popular because they are widely known among communication scholars and still engage our intuitive sense of defensive or supportive behaviors in interpersonal communications. For the purpose of characterizing Wikipedia norms, I found Gibb’s categories to be appropriate. However, I expect using other Wikipedia norms for supportive communication approaches such as Sillars et al.’s (1982) tactics or Forward and Czech’s (2008) collapsed-Gibb model could be equally so. And while I was not attempting to amend this model myself, the surveyed Wikipedia norms do raise at least two issues. The role of humor, as a supportive or defensive behavior, seems salient and unaddressed. And, in keeping with Forward and Czech, neutrality, even as a type of dispassion, can be both supportive and defensive. With respect to characterizing the surveyed norms, the 26 pages in the behavioral and conduct categories (many of which are a Wikipedia policy or guideline) are supportive. This is so for the rest of the essays, with two caveats. There are a number of pages that are exemplars of a defensive communication climate. This includes ‘‘Assume Bad Faith,’’ ‘‘Hold Grudges,’’ and ‘‘Sarcasm Is Really Helpful’’*among other self-apparent pages in the survey (Wikipedia 2007a, 2008h, 2009ag). But these are all parodies: humorous (counter) examples of what not to do. Also, a number of pages recognize the difficulty in balancing between different Wikipedia values. For example, as already noted, in a discussion of neutrality, one should be impassioned and empathic, but not to the point of being embittered or burnt out. One should ‘‘Assume Good Faith,’’ but not permit oneself or Wikipedia to be abused. And one should be able to abide by policy and process, but not get too caught up in it. However, this balancing seems to be inescapable and prudently supportive rather than defensive. Of course, this does not mean these norms are always followed, far from it. They developed in response to positive and negative experiences by Wikipedians, cross-reference each other, and are cited in discussion pages. In any case, Wikipedia does have a communication climate and set of cultural norms and these are important beyond institutional mechanisms. These norms are often cognizant of the significant challenges of working with one another, particularly in the online context, without being cynical*though many are humorously ironic. And in these pages, such as ‘‘Be Nice’’ because it’s good for the project, one can sense an underlying schoolyard-like ethic: share, be nice, and play fairly. Also, these norms are ultimately pragmatic. While a fundamental moral principle might be invoked, such that being nice is simply ‘‘the right thing to do,’’ the norms are concerned with making sure Wikipedia collaboration is productive and enjoyable."

[edit] Comments


Further notes[edit]