In the news
Campaign for video, costs of crowdsourcing, iPhone app, brief headlines
Campaign to add more video to Wikipedia
Last week, the Open Video Alliance, an organization promoting "open standards, open source, and open content" for video, launched a campaign entitled "Let’s Get Video on Wikipedia", involving a portal site at VideoOnWikipedia.org. It is a collaboration with Mozilla Drumbeat, the Participatory Culture Foundation (makers of the Miro video platform), and Wikimedia New York. Erik Möller welcomed the initiative on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation, commenting:
- We don’t expect that Wikipedia will turn into “Wikitube” anytime soon, but we do hope that thousands more relevant educational videos will find their way into articles in our projects.
As TheDJ explained, the portal uses the new HTML5 video player and other video tools developed by Kaltura's Michael Dale for MediaWiki.
On the English Wikipedia, the initiative is accompanied by the formation of the WikiProject Lights Camera Wiki!, and the development of guidelines at Wikipedia:Videos (in addition to existing pages about file uploading and usage).
Role of experts on Wikipedia and Citizendium examined
In his article "Shirky and Sanger, or the costs of crowdsourcing" (appearing this month in the Journal of Science Communication), researcher Mathieu O'Neil examined the role of traditional notions of expertise in collaborative online knowledge production ("crowdsourcing"), comparing the differing approaches of Wikipedia and Citizendium (the online encyclopedia project founded in 2006 by Larry Sanger, Wikipedia's former chief organizer).
The article starts out by comparing Web 2.0 processes to the decision-making of the Internet Engineering Task Force and the free software movement, which eschewed authority derived from traditional hierarchies in favor of recognition of "autonomous technical excellence", as exemplified by David D. Clark's famous slogan: "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code". While noting similarities to this culture in Web 2.0, which is still informed by the "hacker ethic", O'Neil identifies the fact that in today's non-hacker online collaboration "qualifications of participants are not always easily discernible" as an important difference.
As an example of such problems on Wikipedia, O'Neil highlights the case of William Connolley, who as a climatologist ran into trouble with an anonymous opponent while attempting "to correct mistakes on Wikipedia’s climate change article". According to O'Neil, the case "resonated deeply as it highlighted what can befall respected experts who wade into controversial wiki-waters" (it has also been mentioned in a 2005 Nature article and a 2006 New Yorker feature about Wikipedia), exemplifying the concerns of supporters of traditional encyclopedic approaches such as Britannica's and "the kind of incident which Sanger warned against in the early days of Wikipedia".
Citizendium tries to avoid such problems and reconcile traditional expertise with open online collaboration by requiring contributors to defer to "editors", users that have identified themselves as subject experts, for example by providing resumés. In an exchange with Sanger in fall 2006 , shortly after Citizendium had been proposed, Clay Shirky criticized this approach for its reliance on personal authority ("Deference, on Citizendium will be for people, not contributions ... Deference, on Wikipedia, is for contributions, not people...") and argued that Citizendium's approach was doomed to fail because of the costs (efforts) which are implicit in certifying expertise, deferring to it and policing to ensure such deference:
- "If users do not want to participate in a system where the costs of participating are high, Citizendium will simply fail to grow."
O'Neil takes this 2006 debate as a starting point for his evaluations of crowdsourcing, interpreting Citizendium's lack of growth as evidence for Shirky's position:
- "Several years later, it appears, in the first instance, that Shirky's criticism was well-founded: while Citizendium articles are of reasonably good quality, they are not very numerous. New participants to Wikipedia know that their contributions will have a significant audience; becoming a Wikipedia editor is trivial and instantaneous; since it lacks this immediate quality, Citizendium failed to attract the crowd."
However, O'Neil also lists numerous well-known concerns about Wikipedia's approach, identifying them as direct and indirect costs of "anonymous crowdsourcing". As direct costs (defined as "costs directly affecting the quality of the product"), he names:
- Uncertainty - while Wikipedia's approach can generate excellent results, the reader cannot be certain that it did so for a particular article; the quality is not consistent. According to O'Neil, one reason for this is that evaluation of the work of peers (cf. Linus' law) does not work as well on Wikipedia as it does in programming, because hackers can immediately evaluate the quality of their peers: "... either the code runs, or it doesn’t. In the case of Wikipedia, editors are not necessarily equipped to assess the accuracy of contributed information ..."
- Lack of perspective - O'Neil gives an example of an article about an important topic being shorter than one on a trivial topic (cf. Wikigroaning).
- Irresponsibility - O'Neil criticizes an alleged WP:SOFIXIT attitude towards the victims of BLP cases such as the Seigenthaler affair, again highlighting a difference to the world of free software development: "Passing off the responsibility for dealing with the failings of software or information onto the user may be an adequate response when people choose to participate in a venture, as is the case with free software projects. It is absurd when people have no say as to whether they are being written about."
On the other hand, O'Neil questions "whether there really is no deference to traditional expertise on Wikipedia" as assumed by Shirky, citing a 2009 paper by Larry Sanger (summarized in an earlier Signpost issue) where Sanger pointed to Wikipedia's reliable sources guideline and claimed that in several areas on Wikipedia, deference to expertise exists in practice. O'Neil summarizes: "Technical experts who create quality content command the respect of their interlocutors, and it is only when non-technical topics are discussed that deference breaks down, edit wars erupt and manipulation becomes possible."
As the indirect cost of Wikipedia's model (defining indirect cost as those which "divert resources from the task of building an encyclopaedia"), O'Neil names "many-to-many fighting", exacerbated by conflict of interest editing for public relations purposes:
- "Shirky's calculation of costs and benefits does not take into account this unavoidable consequence of a situation in which scientists, interested amateurs, consumers, advertising agencies, and industry spokespersons come together to debate the proper definition of reality with no clear means of telling who is an expert."
O'Neil goes on to mention the Arbitration Committee, Newbie biting, article ownership attitudes, wikilawyering and sockpuppet abuse, and cites studies pointing to a possible bias against casual editors.
(See also last year's Signpost review of O'Neil's book Cyberchiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes and O'Neil's responses)
New commercial Wikipedia iPhone app reviewed
Ars Technica recently reviewed Articles for iPhone, a new Wikipedia client for the iPhone and iPod Touch from Sophiestication Software. (Several other Wikipedia clients are already available for the iPhone, both free and fee-based.) According to the review, "[t]he developer cited the lack of a solution with attractive article layout, including the Wikipedia mobile site, as a major reason as to why they pursued this project". Ars Technica described the collapsing of infoboxes as the app's main difference from the standard view on mobile Safari, and also highlights a "Nearby" feature as a possible justification for the $2.99 price (a map with links to geotagged Wikipedia articles in the vicinity, which is offered by other iPhone clients, too).
(Earlier Signpost coverage about Wikipedia on the iPhone: March 2010, October 2009, January 2009, December 2008, February 2008)