In good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia

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In good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia
Authors: Joseph M. Reagle [edit item]
Citation: New York University  : . 2008. United States, New York.
Publication type: Thesis
Peer-reviewed: Yes
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Link(s): Paper link
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In good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia is a publication by Joseph M. Reagle.


[edit] Abstract

Wikipedia, "the free encyclopedia anyone can edit," has caught the attention of the world. Discourse about the efficacy and legitimacy of this collaborative work abound, from the news pages of "The New York Times" to the satire of "The Onion." So how might we understand Wikipedia collaboration? In part 1 I argue that Wikipedia is an heir to a twentieth century vision of universal access and goodwill; an idea advocated by H. G. Wells and Paul Otlet almost a century ago. This vision is inspired by technological innovation--microfilm and index cards then, digital networks today--and driven by the encyclopedic compulsion to capture and index everything known. In addition, I place Wikipedia within the history of reference works, focusing on their (often fervent) creators, and the cooperation, competition, and plagiarism encountered in their production. In part 2, I conceptualize Wikipedia as a technologically mediated "open" community; through ethnography I identify the norms, practices and meanings of Wikipedia culture including "Neutral Point of View," good faith, and authorial leadership. In particular, I use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to explain the operation of Wikipedia's collaborative culture: "Neutral Point of View' ensures that the scattered pieces of what we think we know can be joined and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together. Finally, in part 3 I focus on the cultural reception and interpretation of Wikipedia. I argue that in the history of reference works Wikipedia is not alone in serving as a flashpoint for larger social anxieties about technological and social change. I try to make sense of the social unease embodied in and prompted by Wikipedia by way of four themes present throughout the dissertation: collaborative practice, universal vision, encyclopedic impulse, and technological inspiration. I show that the discourse around Wikipedia reveals concerns about how new forms of technologically mediated content production are changing the role and autonomy of the individual, the authority of existing institutions, and the character (and quality) of cultural products.

[edit] Research questions

"I start part 1 by arguing that Wikipedia is an heir to a twentieth century vision of universal access and goodwill... In some ways my argument is an update to that made by Boyd Rayward (1994). My effort entails not only showing similarities in the aspirations and technical features of these older visions and Wikipedia, but also the recovery and placement of a number of 'Wikipedia’s predecessors (e.g.,Project Gutenberg, Interpedia, Nupedia) within this history. Most importantly, until recently the universal encyclopedic vision had largely gone unfulfilled. With the relative success of Wikipedia, one can then ask: what makes it different? One typical response to the question of Wikipedia’s success is, of course,to focus on how it is produced. I adopt Pink’s three periods as my foil: adding some historical detail, and sometimes confirming and sometimes complicating the boundaries between the periods of lone genius and corporate activity. At the same time I engage the secondary literature on reference works to place Wikipedia within a history of knowledge production, focusing on their (often fervent) creators, and the cooperation, competition and plagiarism encountered in their production. In part 2, I turn to an ethnography of Wikipedia community, culture, and leadership. In part 3, I focus on the cultural reception and interpretation of Wikipedia."

Research details

Topics: Encyclopedias, Culture and values of Wikipedia, Policies and governance [edit item]
Domains: Information systems [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Main topic [edit item]
Theories: "I conclude by integrating concepts from existing literature and my own findings into a theory of "authorial" leadership: leaders must parlay merit resulting from authoring something significant into a form of authority that can also be used in an autocratic fashion, to arbitrate between those of good faith or defend against those of bad faith, with a soft touch and humor when—and only when—necessary.' (p. 6, Chapter 1, introduction)" [edit item]
Research design: Ethnography [edit item]
Data source: Interview responses [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: Longitudinal [edit item]
Unit of analysis: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia language: Not specified [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"In my discussion of Wikipedia collaborative culture, I use the metaphor of a puzzle to explain the ways in which “Neutral Point of View" and good faith complement each other in the collaborative production of an encyclopedia. NPOV makes it possible for the jigsaw shapes to actually be iitted together, and good faith facilitates the process—sometimes frustrating, sometimes fun—of putting them togetherwith one's peers. However, much as I argue "neutral" should not be understood as a description of the encyclopedia but as an aspiration and intentional stance of its contributors, one should appreciate universalism, openness, and good faith in a similar light. For example, there are inherent tensions (such as "the tyranny of structurelessness") and practical difficulties (e. g., Wikipedia office actions) within an open content community. Similarly, if one were to read my focus on good faith (assuming the best of others, patience, civility, and humor) as implying that Wikipedia is a harmonious community of benevolent saints, one would be wrong. If I were forced to simplify the complex life of a community, particularly an online one, by way of a single theory I would actually resort to Godwin’s Law, first observed on Usenet. We often see the world in the parochial terms of "us versus them," and we tend to be less favorable in judging others than ourselves- and then we are amazingly adept at justifying and rationalizing our own mistakes (Tavris and Aronson, 2007). Given the lack of social context in online interactions (distant, nearly anonymous, and transitory) it should not be surprising that people often end up seeing each other as little Hitlers. This is when Wikipedia began to experience its first serious growing pains Wales’ (2001a) called for a "culture of co-operation" unlike the "culture of conflict embodied in Usenet." And although Wikipedia might be "dedicated to a higher good," I agree with joumalist Stacy Schiff (2006) that "It is also no more immune to human nature than any other utopian project. Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site. Nothing about high—minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse" (p. 1). What Wikipedia’s collaborative culture does, what any culture with positive norms like "Don’t Bite the Newcomers" or "Assume Good Faith"can do, is dampen Godwin's law and call upon "the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln 1861). Technology has played a significant role in inspiring the vision of a universal Encyclopedia."

[edit] Comments


Further notes[edit]

Facts about "In good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia"RDF feed
AbstractWikipedia, "the free encyclopedia anyone cWikipedia, "the free encyclopedia anyone can edit," has caught the attention of the world. Discourse about the efficacy and legitimacy of this collaborative work abound, from the news pages of "The New York Times" to the satire of "The Onion." So how might we understand Wikipedia collaboration? In part 1 I argue that Wikipedia is an heir to a twentieth century vision of universal access and goodwill; an idea advocated by H. G. Wells and Paul Otlet almost a century ago. This vision is inspired by technological innovation--microfilm and index cards then, digital networks today--and driven by the encyclopedic compulsion to capture and index everything known. In addition, I place Wikipedia within the history of reference works, focusing on their (often fervent) creators, and the cooperation, competition, and plagiarism encountered in their production. In part 2, I conceptualize Wikipedia as a technologically mediated "open" community; through ethnography I identify the norms, practices and meanings of Wikipedia culture including "Neutral Point of View," good faith, and authorial leadership. In particular, I use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to explain the operation of Wikipedia's collaborative culture: "Neutral Point of View' ensures that the scattered pieces of what we think we know can be joined and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together. Finally, in part 3 I focus on the cultural reception and interpretation of Wikipedia. I argue that in the history of reference works Wikipedia is not alone in serving as a flashpoint for larger social anxieties about technological and social change. I try to make sense of the social unease embodied in and prompted by Wikipedia by way of four themes present throughout the dissertation: collaborative practice, universal vision, encyclopedic impulse, and technological inspiration. I show that the discourse around Wikipedia reveals concerns about how new forms of technologically mediated content production are changing the role and autonomy of the individual, the authority of existing institutions, and the character (and quality) of cultural products.racter (and quality) of cultural products.
Added by wikilit teamAdded on initial load +
Collected data time dimensionLongitudinal +
ConclusionIn my discussion of Wikipedia collaborativIn my discussion of Wikipedia collaborative culture, I use the metaphor of a puzzle to explain the ways in which “Neutral Point of View" and good faith

complement each other in the collaborative production of an encyclopedia. NPOV makes it possible for the jigsaw shapes to actually be iitted together, and good faith facilitates the process—sometimes frustrating, sometimes fun—of putting them togetherwith one's peers. However, much as I argue "neutral" should not be understood as a description of the encyclopedia but as an aspiration and intentional stance of its contributors, one should appreciate universalism, openness, and good faith in a similar light. For example, there are inherent tensions (such as "the tyranny of structurelessness") and practical difficulties (e. g., Wikipedia office actions) within an open content community. Similarly, if one were to read my focus on good faith (assuming the best of others, patience, civility, and humor) as implying that Wikipedia is a harmonious community of benevolent saints, one would be wrong. If I were forced to simplify the complex life of a community, particularly an online one, by way of a single theory I would actually resort to Godwin’s Law, first observed on Usenet. We often see the world in the parochial terms of "us versus them," and we tend to be less favorable in judging others than ourselves- and then we are amazingly adept at justifying and rationalizing our own mistakes (Tavris and Aronson, 2007). Given the lack of social context in online interactions (distant, nearly anonymous, and transitory) it should not be surprising that people often end up seeing each other as little Hitlers. This is when Wikipedia began to experience its first serious growing pains Wales’ (2001a) called for a "culture of co-operation" unlike the "culture of conflict embodied in Usenet." And although Wikipedia might be "dedicated to a higher good," I agree with joumalist Stacy Schiff (2006) that "It is also no more immune to human nature than any other utopian project. Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site. Nothing about high—minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse" (p. 1). What Wikipedia’s collaborative culture does, what any culture with positive norms like "Don’t Bite the Newcomers" or "Assume Good Faith"can do, is dampen Godwin's law and call upon "the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln 1861).

Technology has played a significant role in inspiring the vision of a universal Encyclopedia.
ng the vision of a universal Encyclopedia.
Conference locationUnited States, New York +
Data sourceInterview responses +
Google scholar urlhttp://scholar.google.com/scholar?ie=UTF-8&q=%22In%2Bgood%2Bfaith%3A%2BWikipedia%2Bcollaboration%2Band%2Bthe%2Bpursuit%2Bof%2Bthe%2Buniversal%2Bencyclopedia%22 +
Has authorJoseph M. Reagle +
Has domainInformation systems +
Has topicEncyclopedias +, Culture and values of Wikipedia + and Policies and governance +
Peer reviewedYes +
Publication typeThesis +
Published inNew York University +
Research designEthnography +
Research questionsI start part 1 by arguing that Wikipedia iI start part 1 by arguing that Wikipedia is an heir to a twentieth century vision of universal access and goodwill... In some ways my argument is an update to that made by Boyd Rayward (1994). My effort entails not only showing similarities in the aspirations and technical features of these older visions and Wikipedia, but

also the recovery and placement of a number of 'Wikipedia’s predecessors (e.g.,Project Gutenberg, Interpedia, Nupedia) within this history. Most importantly, until recently the universal encyclopedic vision had largely gone unfulfilled. With the relative success of Wikipedia, one can then ask: what makes it different? One typical response to the question of Wikipedia’s success is, of course,to focus on how it is produced. I adopt Pink’s three periods as my foil: adding some historical detail, and sometimes confirming and sometimes complicating the boundaries between the periods of lone genius and corporate activity. At the same time I engage the secondary literature on reference works to place Wikipedia within a history of knowledge production, focusing on their (often fervent) creators, and the cooperation, competition and plagiarism encountered in their production.

In part 2, I turn to an ethnography of Wikipedia community, culture, and leadership. In part 3, I focus on the cultural reception and interpretation of Wikipedia.
reception and interpretation of Wikipedia.
Revid11,255 +
TheoriesI conclude by integrating concepts from exI conclude by integrating concepts from existing literature and my own findings into a theory of "authorial" leadership: leaders must parlay merit resulting from authoring something significant into a form of authority that can also be used in an autocratic fashion, to arbitrate between those of good faith or defend against those of bad faith, with a soft touch and humor when—and only when—necessary.' (p. 6, Chapter 1, introduction)ecessary.' (p. 6, Chapter 1, introduction)
Theory typeAnalysis +
TitleIn good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia
Unit of analysisN/A +
Urlhttp://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1510560441&Fmt=7&clientId=10306&RQT=309&VName=PQD +
Wikipedia coverageMain topic +
Wikipedia data extractionN/A +
Wikipedia languageNot specified +
Wikipedia page typeN/A +
Year2008 +