First, Wikipedia, with its hundreds of nor … 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.collaboration is productive and enjoyable.
I argue that the surveyed Wikipedia norms, … 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.ty, empathy,
equality, and provisionalism.