User:Will Lakeman/Wikipedia research
I will update this page as I work, please find below a short list of questions and potential sections that I am currently addressing for the dissertation.
- Note on layout of this page:Older research material can be found at User:Will Lakeman/Wikipedia research/Archive 1.
Wikipedia: the virtual community and the democratisation of knowledge
I decided to write about the Wikipedia with the aim of discovering whether a free, open project with a comparative lack of fixed hierarchy could function as a model for the democratisation of human knowledge. I want to explore whether the Wikipedia may provide a model that differs from the traditional paper-based dissemination of knowledge and the associations of text with pedagogy.
I was also intrigued by the fact that every Wikipedia article contains a precise record of the debates that have led to each individual version stored in the history of the page. I aim to assess whether the dynamic, changeable nature of a Wikipedia article may (contrary to mass-media predictions) actually work in favour of the Wikipedia as a tool for research, as the lack of a “fixed version” may reveal that knowledge always exists in a state of flux. This theory may be extended to assess the extent to which the Wikipedia has a ‘’’meta-discourse’’’, which examines the way knowledge is recorded, accessed and debated in an internet-enabled culture.
However, whilst I believe the aims of the Wikipedia are laudable, I am also concerned that the conditions necessary for participation may actually serve to reinforce a certain systemic bias in the project. I wish to explore what is necessary to participate successfully in the project, and the extent to which certain social, national, and cultural groups are under- or over-represented. I believe that the only way the questions above may be answered is through an approach that examines technology in parallel with community, and take into account the effects of pre-exiting structures of knowledge, media and community upon any new forms that may arise.
Methodology and the role of the researcher
I am quite interested by the idea put forward on Wikipedia:WikiProject Wikidemia that the Wikipedia is a self-documenting research population, and so I decided early on to post the ongoing status of my research on my user page (even before I had any decent ideas to work with). I am glad I made this decision, as people have contacted me with suggestions and queries about my research, many of which have proved to be very useful. Some of this material has come from other writers, but also from users visiting my talk page and chancing upon my status as a researcher.
I decided early on that I would not hide my status as a researcher, although I do wish I’d made it clearer that I’ve been editing and using the Wikipedia (under an anon IP at work) for a few years before deciding to write about it. I’m of the opinion that the best way to understand a community is to take an active part in it, and to obscure your status as a researcher will produce a work that may present a false and misleading air of political neutrality. Also, as one of my main academic interests is the issue of media bias, I didn’t think it was appropriate to avoid the political topics that interest me on the Wikipedia, as I plan to document my own disputes with other users as part of my write up. I also decided that I would assess the Wikipedia purely in terms of the content that could be discovered by visiting the site; I only want to know material about users and issues that could be easily discovered by any user, rather than through a complex ethnography.
In short, I aim to produce a self-reflexive piece of work that explains something about the Wikipedia from the perspective of an academic researcher, taking into account the cultural bias inherent in the position of that researcher (ie. me).
My aims are:
- To examine the Wikipedia community based on the evidence found within the Wikipedia - focusing on talk pages, procedural guidelines, and records of disputes and histories.
- To understand the functioning of the Wikipedia through working as a community member to improve articles. If this involves participating in some of the debates which I may end up writing about, then I feel this is preferable to assuming a mask of scholarly objectivity. I do not believe that objectivity is possible.
- However, I do believe that it is possible for users with opposing views to work together to produce articles which may approach objectivity, and succeed through allowing the reader to choose the avenues by which the continue their own research. In this case, good articles generate further knowledge.
- To address the underlying philosophy (or philosophies) which enable the Wiki to function.
- To assume good faith, and to act in good faith towards others.
- To make my own research accessible to all for comment, in the spirit of the Wiki.
- Begin by taking a historical look at the technology of the Internet and the World wide web which has made the Wikipedia possible, beginning with Vannevar Bush’s concept of the Memex, Douglas Engelbart's work on augmenting human inteleect, and with Ted Nelson’s work on Hypertext and ultimately Project Xanadu. I would like to demonstrate that many of the ideas put forward by these pioneering thinkers have been adopted by the Wiki system, for reasons that are both practical and, more controversiallly, political.
- Discuss the rise of the computer network as a technological artefact, but also in terms of the groups of people which have made it possible, namely western universities, scientists and, latterly, online subcultures as the WELL, Usenet and forum culture.
- Demonstrate that the Wikipedia does not exist in terms of a ‘’text’’ that may be understood through traditional methods of analysis, but must be understood in terms of its position with both a web-based information culture and a type of society that makes the former possible. I aim to understand the Wikipedia, both in terms of its content and in terms of the community that maintains it, through an understanding of the philosophy of hypertext, and the links that structure the web.
Structure and conventions of the Wikipedia
- Look at the style conventions of the Wikipedia in terms of their effect on the actual articles, but also on the debate which takes place on ‘’’talk’’’ and ‘’’user’’’pages, particularly in terms of the concept of Neutral Point of View.
- Look at how the link-based structure of the Wikipedia effects the ways in which it may be used, and the manner in which linking, categories and searching may reinforce certain points of view, as well as page histories, recent changes and talk pages.
- Assess Wikipedia structure in terms of the exploration of taxonomy in the works of Michel Foucault. Is the structure of an Encyclopaedia of political significance?
Wikipedia as online community
- What is the (apparent) social makeup of the Wikipedia? Which different ideologies might attract users to the project?
- Are these findings actually assumptions, based on history and prior ethnography? What do users choose to present about themselves?
- Compare these observations to studies of Virtual communities carried out by Howard Rheingold and Sherry Turkle (amongst others) as well as interrogating the concept of community which framed the assumptions of these studies.
- As a community, does the Wikiepedia actually resemble the models put forward by Manuel Castells in The Network Society?
- What can be learned from the extent to which users collaborate and come into conflict?
- How effectively will the wiki system scale to accommodate larger groups? Is fragmentation an issue? This topic is discussed in detail at MeatballWiki here.
- Does the Wikipedia conform to Pierre Levy's ideas about Collective intelligence?
Using the Wikipedia has lead me to the opinion that, despite occasional problems, the amount of openness and lack of authority is actually a good thing for the functioning of the community, even if it demands a lot of time from people to fix vandalism. I’m convinced that authority will always produce resentment, whereas the lengthy (and often frustrating) debates on Wikipedia will (mostly) lend legitimacy to the most reasonable parties in any debate, and those most minded towards compromise. Of course, I’m just as interested in occasions where this hasn’t worked.
- Can the different conceptions of the Public sphere employed by theorists (such as Foucault and Juergen Habermas be applied to the Wikipedia?
- What can be considered the idea of a 'public' as far as the Wikipedia is concerned, and does this differ from the concept of an 'audience'?
Hopefully, I will also demonstrate that the open nature of Wikipedia policy (which may be easily found by any user) helps ensure the goodwill of the type of users that are most beneficial to the project. The ability to participate in Votes for Deletion, mediation and arbitration makes the Wikipedia “Mechanism of Government” open (if not agreeable) to all.
- Pages in Wikipedia that I'm thinking of writing about
- Project Wikidemia: a page for academic research into the Wikipedia
- Neutral point of view
- Wikipedia: Five pillars
- List of controversial issues
- Wikipedia: Researching with Wikipedia
- Wikipedia: WikiProject Countering systemic bias
- Wikipedia: Schools' FAQ
- Wikipedia: School and university projects
- Wikipedia talk:Guide for Indymedia authors
- 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Information Age
- Requests for Adminship
- Administrators' Noticeboard
- Peer Review
- Resolving Disputes
- Requests for Comment
- Requests for Arbitration
- Vandalism in progress page
- Articles on the Wikipedia that are relative to my topic
- Links from the meta-wiki
- Links to pages outside Wikipedia, including forks and discussion forums
- Simple English Wikipedia
- Wikimania paper on 'Wikipedia as a learning community' by Cormaggio
- User: Florence Derouard's Wikimania paper on 'How To get Wikimedia into the developing world'
- kuro5hin article by Larry Sanger on why Wikipedia must jettison its anti-elitism
- Article on Wikinfo about critical views of Wikipedia
- Phantom Authority, self–selective recruitment and retention of members in virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia by Andrea Ciffolilli
- Red Herring article on edit wars
- Kapitalism article critical of Wikipedia
- Article by the former editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica critical of Wikipedia
- Meatball Wiki article on scaling communities
- Meatball Wiki article on 'Forest Fires' and one on Flame Wars
- Clay Shirky article on Communities, Audiences and Scale
- Philipe Agrain article on the Individual and the Collective in Open Information Communities