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Supportive communication and missing incentives on Wikipedia, and more
Wikipedia's communication norms analyzed
Wikipedia researcher Joseph Reagle (a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center) announced a new paper last week ("'Be Nice': Wikipedia norms for supportive communication", preprint available online). The abstract reads as follows:
- 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 they can be characterized as supportive based on Jack Gibb’s classic communication article 'Defensive Communication'.
Gibb's 1961 paper distinguishes between "supportive" and "defensive" communication, as summarized by Reagle: "Supportive behavior/climates are characterized by non-judgmental description, problem orientation, spontaneity, empathy, equality, and provisionalism. Their 'defensive' opposites are evaluation, control, strategy, neutrality, superiority, and certainty." Using these twelve characteristics, Reagle classified the text of 104 pages from Wikipedia, including policies, guidelines, essays and humorous texts. Examples included Wikipedia:No legal threats, Wikipedia:Right to vanish, User:Dlohcierekim/apathy, Wikipedia:Thankspam, Wikipedia:Five pillars of evil, and Wikipedia:BOLD, revert, revert, revert. The majority was found to be in the "supportive" realm.
A book by Reagle based on his 2008 dissertation about Wikipedia is to appear next month ("Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia"). A Signpost review is in preparation.
Newsweek: Wikipedia contributors need materialistic incentives
An August 9 Newsweek article by Tony Dokoupil and Angela Wu argued that "Crowd Sourcing Loses Steam" because "most people simply don’t want to work for free", adding to the longstanding debate on whether user-generated content can replace that produced by paid workers (see e.g. Carr-Benkler wager). Among other examples, Newsweek named Wikipedia: "In the history of the web, last spring may figure as a tipping point. That’s when Wikipedia [...] began to falter as a social movement." This statement was apparently based on the statistical research by Felipe Ortega, which had led to debates about Wikipedia's future last year after it was covered in the Wall Street Journal (see Signpost coverage on 23 November, 7 December, and 30 November of 2009). Ortega criticized the Newsweek article for implying "additional conclusions that don't apply to Wikipedia".
Dokoupil and Wu appeared to argue that in the past, most Wikipedians had contributed to the project because it was seen as fashionable at the time:
- The practice of crowd sourcing, in particular, worked because the early Web inspired a kind of collective fever, one that made the slog of writing encyclopedia entries feel new, cool, fun. But with three out of four American households online, contributions to the hive mind can seem a bit passé, and Web participation, well, boring—kind of like writing encyclopedia entries for free.
Apart from Google's Kiswahili Challenge (where the company offered prizes for contributions to the Swahili Wikipedia), the article also cites the Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative as evidence for its thesis that goodwill motivations are not enough: "Wikipedia’s new recruiting push will not rely merely on highfalutin promises about pooled greatness and 'the sum of all human knowledge.' Instead, the organization is hoping to get students to write and edit entries as part of their coursework."
Cliff Lampe, a professor at Michigan State University who was quoted in the Newsweek article, commented that "the reporter had an axe to grind, and I did my best to thwart the predefined narrative".
- A new tool called Linkypedia analyzes external links on the English Wikipedia to a given web site (providing more information than MediaWiki's own external link search function) intending "to help cultural heritage institutions that are putting content online to see how wikipedians are citing and annotating their stuff". It was mentioned in a talk at the Society of American Archivists' (SAA) annual meeting last week (summary, slides), which described the insertion of links into Wikipedia articles as an important SEO tool for archives.
- The August 7 print edition of The Independent incorrectly stated that the music festival The Big Chill initially had a different name, which happened to have some obscene connotations. On August 9, blogger Kat Arney noted the error and traced it back to the Wikipedia article about the festival, as did The Guardian's "Media Monkey" blog on the following day. The erroneous information had been inserted into the Wikipedia article without giving a reference on August 4, and has since been removed.
- On August 10, The Huffington Post listed 15 Surprising Facts about Wikipedia.
- On his "Information Is Beautiful" blog, David McCandless presented some of the "lamest edit wars" from Wikipedia's own list of them, in a visualization covering such examples as "should wee link to the article on Nintendo wii or the urine?" and "is it NPOV (Neutral Point Of View) to say an animal is 'cute'". The infographic was linked by many blogs during the following days, with one on CNET UK calling it "pure gold". On his "The Wikipedian" blog, William Beutler (User:WWB) harshly criticized it as "so lazy as to be misleading, glib as to be condescending, and generally unhelpful that I’m inclined to say that it sets back the public understanding of how Wikipedia works all by itself." For example, the size of each edit war in the graphic corresponded to the total edits of the article, not the edits expended in the edit war, and its position on the timeline matched the article's inception, not the time during which the edit war occurred. McCandless conceded that Beutler had made "fair points", but that the visualization was "light-hearted, playful" and that "[p]age edits [were] used as barometer of controversy".