“According to Wikipedia…”


Folksinger Odetta holding a guitar and singing

Folksinger Odetta performed “This Little Light…” on David Letterman’s first show after 9/11. Photographed by Jac. de Nijs / Anefo in 1961; public domain.

This week, I heard a wonderful news story about the song “This Little Light of Mine.” It was a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of a beloved piece of Americana—and exactly the kind of news story any Wikipedia contributor (myself, for instance) would be tempted to include as a citation in the relevant Wikipedia article.

Unfortunately, one small detail shakes my confidence in the reporting, and raises a general concern about the way even the most reputable news sources, like NPR’s “All Things Considered,” treat the sources they use.

About halfway through the story, the reporter delves into the origin of the song, stating:

“Wikipedia and some books credit Harry Dixon Loes.”

The problem: Wikipedia, whose production model differs significantly from traditional publishers, is not a distinct entity, and as such cannot itself issue “credit” or make claims.

Diagram showing arrows pointing in both directions between "Wikipedia" and "Press"

Graphic by Niabot/Wikimedia Foundation, licensed CC BY-SA.

While the content on Wikipedia may offer great value on the whole, the site can’t be relied on to verify any specific point. You may have heard, for instance, of the John Seigenthaler hoax, in which a Wikipedia contributor falsely linked a former U.S. attorney general to the deaths of JFK and RFK. Wikipedia contributors strive to correct false or questionable information, and in many cases do an admirable job; but as the Seigenthaler case clearly shows, the process can fail spectacularly. But as a core principle, Wikipedia’s designers have always insisted that “anyone can edit”—without first establishing credentials, or even proving their worthy intentions. Many of the contributions that come in are worthwhile. Over time, problematic additions are caught and corrected by other Wikipedia contributors; but by design, the site lacks any mechanism to fully guarantee the accuracy of any specific claim.

It is essential to regard Wikipedia as a platform, enabling individuals to make claims and back them up with authoritative citations, rather than as a publisher using robust editorial processes and offering its claims as reliable facts. Crediting an individual with adding a claim to Wikipedia is fine (though digging up the proper attribution may take some effort); using Wikipedia as a guide to find more reliable sources, and then citing those sources directly, is even better. But crediting Wikipedia itself is problematic, and is something any journalist should avoid, unless mentioning it as one link in a chain leading to a more authoritative source. At best, crediting Wikipedia imparts information with little value to the listener; at worst, it gives the listener undue confidence in a piece of original research that may or may not be true, and suggests to the listener that NPR erroneously regards Wikipedia as an authoritative source for such information.

Wikipedia’s editors offer guidance about citing Wikipedia. The first words of this essay:

“We advise special caution when using Wikipedia as a source for research projects.”

(Even this page carries a banner warning the reader not to take its contents too seriously as an expression of Wikipedia policy; but the point it makes should resonate at first glance with anyone who has carefully considered Wikipedia’s production model.)

Shining a Light on “This Little Light of Mine”

As it turns out, the question of who wrote the spiritual anthem “This Little Light of Mine” provides an excellent example to expose how Wikipedia works, and why it should not be treated as an authority on individual facts.

Cartoon depicting a Wikipedia writer and a news writer citing each other's work

“Citogenesis” by Randall Munroe/xkcd. Licensed CC BY-NC.

Harry Dixon Loes’ name was first added to the Wikipedia article about the song a decade ago. The person who made the addition used the name “SingingSongsOfSunshine”—and that’s about all that anyone could tell you about their identity. (The most trusted Wikipedia administrators could determine the user’s IP address; but that wouldn’t tell you much, and it’s considered highly privileged information, to be used only in combating extreme cases of vandalism or harassment.) This Wikipedia username was only ever used to make three edits to Wikipedia, all on the same day in 2008. All three were minor changes to articles about gospel songs; none included any suggestion about the source for the information added. The person did not voluntarily disclose anything about their identity, nor did they engage in any kind of discussion under that account.

Two years later, somebody else asked on the article’s talk page, “Where is the proof of the original author?” This person didn’t even bother to use a Wikipedia account. Nobody ever responded. In 2012, another Wikipedia contributor placed a banner at the top of the article, indicating that the article had insufficient citations. That banner remains to this day. This person, known as “VernoWhitney,” unlike the others mentioned in this piece, is a dedicated Wikipedia contributor, having made several hundred edits to the site since first registering in 2010.

In February 2018, another user added a citation to justify Mr. Loes’ authorship. The citation added is to an article on ThoughtCo.com; the article was apparently written in 2017, but lists no sources. Did the ThoughtCo article used the Wikipedia article as its source? I’ve never heard of ThoughtCo before, but at first glance, I’d say it looks like a “content farm“—the kind of site a Wikipedia contributor is expected to view with great skepticism. It seems entirely plausible that the ThoughtCo author would have used Wikipedia as a source, introducing a problem referred to by xkcd author Randall Munroe as “citogenesis.” Like the earlier Wikipedia user, this individual—going by “Ddallender”—only ever made three tiny edits to Wikipedia, and never disclosed any information about themselves. As with the initial addition in 2008, neither the public nor any Wikipedia administrator has any way to know who this was.

While Wikipedia’s reliability is worthy of healthy skepticism, the site does excel in other areas, many of which set it apart from traditional publishers. Journalists, and critical readers in general, appreciate many of Wikipedia’s features. The research required for this piece, for instance, is enabled by Wikipedia’s radically transparent processes. I did not need any special access to the site, or to its authors, to identify which accounts made what changes, or when. Merely knowing which buttons to click will yield a wealth of information about any Wikipedia article.

On the whole, “All Things Considered” is the kind of journalistic source Wikipedia contributors love to use in composing Wikipedia content. But Wikipedia should be citing “All Things Considered,” not the other way around. I hope that “All Things Considered” will continue to use Wikipedia in its research; but in so doing, it must apply considerable judgment before reporting any of Wikipedia’s contents. Academic studies have found that Wikipedia’s content is often excellent; but part of that excellence derives from the transparency we offer in terms of our sources. We hope to guide our readers to authoritative sources, and enable them to make their own judgment about contentious points, like the authorship of a classic entry in the American songbook. If Wikipedia’s word is reported as final, the public may be misinformed, and “All Things Considered” may engender doubts about its reporting practices among those listeners who are familiar with Wikipedia’s methods.

For more on the connections between Wikipedia and journalism, see “The Future of Journalism in a Wikipedia World.” For a current initiative to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of news outlets, see Newspapers on Wikipedia.

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Wikipedia’s ban of Daily Mail exposes news publisher flaws

Who doesn’t love a good media feud?

As reported by the Guardian on February 8, the English language Wikipedia has (mostly) banned the Daily Mail as an acceptable source for citation, after declaring it “unreliable”. The report touched a nerve; the Mail swiftly issued a shrill and rambling retort, and the story was swiftly picked up in more than a dozen other publications.

But this feud more than a mere “pass the popcorn” moment. It’s also a learning opportunity, highlighting important dynamics in how media outlets function. The widespread interest in how Wikipedia evaluates its sources is welcome and overdue. In this post, I’ll consider:

  1. What’s the context of Wikipedia’s decision? What exactly was the decision, how was it made, and how binding is it?
  2. Was it the right decision?
  3. What insights does the media response to Wikipedia’s decision offer?

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Posted in governance, journalism, wiki, Wikipedia | 3 Comments

Wikipedia, controversy, and an acclaimed documentary

The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on college campuses exposed conflicts of interest, malfeasance and cover-ups.

Drawing by Nicholas Boudreau, licensed CC BY 4.0.

Drawing by Nicholas Boudreau, licensed CC BY 4.0.

To learn about a complex topic—especially if powerful institutions have a major stake in it—we rely on experts. People who devote substantial effort toward understanding all facets of a topic can offer the public a great deal of value. We routinely refer to their perspectives and analysis when forming opinions on important social and political issues.

But of course, our reliance on experts makes their interests and motivations highly significant. To what extent do an expert’s motivations inappropriately drive their opinions and judgments? Do those opinions and judgments color how they present the facts? As critical readers, we should always pay attention to conflicts of interest (COIs). And if they’re insufficiently disclosed, we’re at a significant disadvantage. If you learn that a product review you relied on was secretly written by the company that made it, you might feel some indignation—and rightly so.

Publishers that care about accurate information face the same issue, but have a greater degree of responsibility; and if a publisher inadvertently amplifies biased information on to its readers, its reputation may suffer. So publishers establish standards and processes to eliminate COIs, or—since it’s often impossible to gather information that is 100% free of COI—to manage them responsibly. Wikipedia is no exception.

But as a publication that invites participation from any anonymous person in the world, Wikipedia has unique challenges around COI. Despite Wikipedia’s efforts to require disclosure, COIs often go undeclared and unnoticed, which leaves everybody (understandably) a little skittish about the whole topic. Blogging pioneer Dave Winer’s words in 2005 illustrate this point: “Every fact in [Wikipedia] must be considered partisan, written by someone with a conflict of interest,” he said. But significantly, every change to the site is rigorously preserved and open to public review. Wikipedia editors routinely investigate and deliberate additions and edits to the site. Every change can be reverted. Every user can be chastised or blocked for bad behavior. The process can be messy, but since 2005, researchers have repeatedly found that Wikipedia’s process generates good content. A properly disclosed and diligently managed COI on Wikipedia is rarely a big deal; it’s part of what makes Wikipedia work. Disclosure is a key component that supports informed deliberation. Disclosing a COI doesn’t give a Wikipedia user carte blanche to do as they see fit; but it does express respect for Wikipedia’s values and for fellow editors, and it gives Wikipedia editors more information to use in resolving disagreements. Continue reading

Posted in conflict of interest, governance, journalism, leadership, paid editing, Terms of Use, Uncategorized, wiki, Wikipedia | 5 Comments

No, Congresswoman: WikiLeaks has nothing to do with Wikipedia

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Texas. Photo public domain, courtesy of U.S. Congress.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Texas. Photo public domain, courtesy of U.S. Congress.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston is the latest prominent figure to confuse Wikipedia with WikiLeaks. This confusion goes back many years; it often flares up when WikiLeaks releases capture the public’s attention. In 2010, for instance, when WikiLeaks released a string of controversial documents and video, journalists including Charlie Rose turned to Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales for commentary — only to learn, sometimes on live camera, that Wales and Wikimedia have nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

But the mistake is an important and troubling one, especially when made by a public official. Wikipedia and WikiLeaks do not merely lack institutional ties; they also reflect profoundly divergent philosophies about the public’s role in information stewardship.

Wikipedia invites everybody in the world to participate in nearly every decision.

WikiLeaks, while it might solicit key information from anybody who has it, is completely opaque and centrally driven in its decisions; founder Julian Assange may be the sole decision-maker (or perhaps there is a small inner circle he consults).

Any member of Congress should care about the public’s role in information management and dissemination. And anybody who cares about that topic should know, as a basic point of literacy in 2016, that Wikipedia and WikiLeaks are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Read more on the differences here: WikiLeaks is not part of Wikipedia


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Cupcake with feeling: Getting quotes and taking names


KATU news team interviews Angelica of Fat Cupcake. Photo CC BY, Pete Forsyth.

The news ain’t what it used to be…a recent story that ran in multiple Portland, Oregon news outlets took a single, anonymous Yelp comment as evidence of a “controversy.” Fortunately, I got to be at the bakery the story covered when a TV news team came in to…actually interview to sources.

Angelica, owner of Fat Cupcake, poses with me and her "controversial" cupcake. Photo by KATU news anchor, at Pete's request.

Angelica, owner of Fat Cupcake, poses with me and her “controversial” cupcake. Photo by KATU news anchor, at Pete’s request, CC BY.

This story reminds me of how Wikipedia is often covered: two random people disagreeing over something in a Wikipedia article might be presented as an “edit war” or a “something-gate.” As the way we communicate evolves, it’s taking traditional media a while to catch up.

See my full writeup on Medium.

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ACTRIAL: Wikipedia volunteer leadership should be recognized

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is inviting commentary on how to recognize and encourage informal leadership in the volunteer community. (The consultation runs from September 20 through October 16, 2016.) This is a welcome initiative; the Wikimedia movement has not done well, over the years, at capturing stories of volunteers who successfully focus attention on important areas, and who do good work building consensus and forging and executing plans.

There are exceptions. The announcement linked above hails achievements by Liam Wyatt and Vassia Atanassova; and the WMF has consistently highlighted successful volunteer-driven projects on its blog and elsewhere. Still, many who have taken on big challenges and risks to advance our shared values and vision go unheralded.

Below, I consider an important 2011 initiative and conflict, known informally as ACTRIAL (short for “Article Creation Trial”). I learned of it many months after it took place; I had to jump through jargon-filled discussions in multiple venues before I began to understand what had happened. It’s an important story, though. In recent years, WMF staff have often asserted that Wikipedia’s volunteers are “change averse,” and incapable of generating or agreeing on new ideas. But the characterization is neither fair nor accurate, and is typically asserted out of mere political convenience.

ACTRIAL, however, provides a clear and valuable counterexample, in which Wikipedians self-organized to advocate for change, and WMF staff blocked the effort. This post highlights an important piece of Wikimedia history, and offers a little recognition to unsung heroes.

The Blade of the Northern Lights, a Wikipedia volunteer, wanted to address a persistent problem that irks many regular Wikipedians: brand new Wikipedia volunteers who write articles that are far from meeting Wikipedia’s content standards.

The Blade proposed that the creation of new articles be restricted to users with a bit of experience (“autoconfirmed”: 4 days, 10 edits), and then guided more than 500 English Wikipedia volunteers in considering and ultimately approving the proposal.

ACTRIAL was designed as a six-month experiment rather than a definitive policy change. That point is an important one; the WMF often encourages volunteers and affiliate organizations to test hypotheses before making long-term commitments. Volunteer Rich Farmbrough, in spite of his skepticism about the proposed change, praised ACTRIAL’s design as an experiment in 2014, and explained the significance:

I am against preventing article creation by IPs let alone non-autoconfirmed users. But this trial might well have provided compelling evidence one way or the other.

Once the English Wikipedia community had agreed to move forward with ACTRIAL, Scottywong, another Wikipedia volunteer, formally requested a necessary technical change. In a haphazard discussion driven by WMF staffers, the request was denied. Apparently ignoring the extensive deliberation that had involved hundreds of volunteers, one WMF employee stated: “this entire idea doesn’t appear to have been thought through.” Several seemed to agree that the proposal was at odds with the strategic goal of improving editor retention, though no clear argument supporting that position was advanced.

To date, the WMF has not explained this extraordinary rejection of a good-faith, volunteer-driven initiative. The closest approximation to an explanation was a mailing list discussion in 2014. In that discussion, then-WMF staffer Philippe Beaudette asserted that the WMF had ultimately solved the underlying problem in another way:

What I remember was that a pretty good number (~500) of [English Wikipedia] community members came together and agreed on a problem, and one plan for how to fix it and asked the WMF to implement it. The WMF evaluated it, and saw a threat to a basic project value. WMF then asked “what’s the problem you’re actually trying to solve?”, and proposed and built a set of tools to directly address that problem without compromising the core value of openness. And it seems to have worked out pretty well because I haven’t heard a ton of complaints about that problem since.

However, Beaudette’s statement had several problems (edited: see note below):

  • If there was indeed an evaluation, it was never made public.
  • While several individuals argued that a “basic project value” was at risk, no decisive case was made, nor any formal conclusion presented. Others disagreed, and the matter was never resolved decisively.
  • If the WMF had asked “what’s the problem you’re actually trying to solve?”, the question was not (as far as I can tell) posed in a public venue.
  • It’s unclear what “set of tools” were developed; but regardless of what that was referring to, any claim that it “worked out pretty well” should have been evaluated by a more robust process than listening for complaints. As volunteer Todd Allen said: “You haven’t heard more complaints, because the complaint was pointless the first time and took a massive effort to produce.”

When I requested clarification, Beaudette did not respond; but James Alexander, another WMF staff member, did step in. Alexander speculated that the software inspired by ACTRIAL was the Page Curation tool. He may have been correct, but no other staff member confirmed it in that email thread; and neither the page on Page Curation nor its parent page on the Article Creation Workflow make any mention of the discussion of the 500+ volunteers that may or may not have have inspired them.

The sequence of events around ACTRIAL has not been publicly documented by the Foundation – and accordingly, five years later, the leadership shown by the volunteers who guided the discussion remains unrecognized. The initial reactions of WMF staff, therefore, loom large in volunteers’ memory. As Rich Farmbrough opined: “The dismissal as a ‘we know better’ was a bad thing.”

Now that the Foundation seeks to explore stories of leadership in the Wikimedia movement, it would do well to look into the story of The Blade of the Northern Lights and Scottywong. These two played important roles in guiding the English Wikipedia community to define a problem, and to map out a viable (if unimplemented) way to explore a solution. Moreover, if any Wikimedia Foundation staff worked with the volunteer community to make something worthwhile out of those deliberations, their leadership merits recognition as well.

Note: This blog post does not cover the role of Erik Moeller, then the Deputy Director of the WMF. He made a couple of substantive comments in the discussion. Some of them speak to Beaudette’s points, and the extent to which the WMF engaged with the problem surfaced in the volunteer community. I will update this post or follow it up with more detail when I have time. -Pete

Posted in governance, history, leadership, Uncategorized, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia | 9 Comments

What will be our Taj Mahal of text?

Script from the Koran adorns much of the Taj Mahal. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, licensed CC BY 2.0

Script from the Koran adorns much of the Taj Mahal. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, licensed CC BY 2.0

A slide flashed on the screen—the Taj Mahal. The audience was initially taken by its physical beauty.  But upon closer inspection, we were told, one would find much of the text of the Koran chiseled into this wonder  of the ancient world.

What a brilliant way to preserve text against the ravages of time. Carve the most  important words into the stone of a marvelous structure.

Text—its physical structure, its preservation, its manipulation, interpretation and cultural transformation—was the topic of the sixth Future of Text Symposium on the Google campus in late August.

Frode Hegland introduces the Symposium.

Frode Hegland introduces the Symposium. Event photos by Dan Cook, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

For the second year, Wiki Strategies founder Pete Forsyth was among the speakers, who each had 10 minutes to describe a particular personal text passion, followed by five minutes for questions and discussion. Wiki Strategies co-sponsored the symposium.

The symposium exists because Frode Hegland cares deeply about text and had been searching for a vehicle to bring together kindred spirits to probe text’s evolution. As he has said in explaining the need for such a gathering, “The written word is a fundamental unit of knowledge and as such is of universal importance.”

Hegland, a teacher, lecturer, software developer and author, hosted the first Future of Text symposium in London six years ago. He intentionally keeps the crowd small, intimate and engaged; expanding to a three-day conference in a hotel ballroom is not his idea of  thought leadership.

Eileen Clegg presenting. Event photos by Dan Cook, licensed CC BY 4.0.

Eileen Clegg presenting.

His co-organizer is Houria Iderkou—without whom, he says, the symposium would not be possible. Houria is an e-commerce entrepreneur who flawlessly manages the many details of hosting a symposium.

This year they again brought together leading thinkers in the various disciplines that are united by text. Among the two dozen presenters: Google hosts and innovators Vint Cerf and Peter Norvig; Ted Nelson (via Skype); Robert Scoble; Jane Yellowlees Douglas; Livia Polanyi; and Adam Hyde. The full roster can be more thoroughly appreciated here.

The passions unleashed and the intellectual exchanges that occurred that day in Mountain View paid tribute to text’s contributions to human culture. For one day, the written word was celebrated as the miraculous gift to mankind that it truly is. Frode admitted to being a bit discouraged at day’s end–not by the discussions that took place, but by the weight of responsibility mankind has to hand text along from generation to generation, and to use it to its full potential to support the human endeavor.

Jim Strahorn, Pete Forsyth, and Bonnie DeVarco dig into the technicalities of text.

Jim Strahorn, Pete Forsyth, and Bonnie DeVarco dig into the technicalities of text.

It is, after all, the accounting and preservation of the human experience, as well as an essential ingredient of that experience. When one considers what has been irrevocably lost of the experiences of humans who did not have a written language to pass their tales on to those who came after them, then perhaps Frode’s anxieties come sharply into focus. The responsibility is on us to preserve in text what we have learned, what we have seen and heard and touched and felt and smelled.

So perhaps we should ask: What will be our Taj Mahal?

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Future of Text Symposium talk

Pete Forsyth, photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, licensed CC BY-SA.

Pete Forsyth, photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, licensed CC BY-SA.

Wikipedia is important to the future, and important to text.

Future of Text 2016 slides

  • Text-based, honors the legacy of text
  • Collaborative: Hundreds of thousands of volunteers
  • Preserves values of journalism, academia
  • Journalists & academics resist the pull – to a point

Forsyth Criteria for collaborative software


Flawed engine of knowledge

Its problems are different  from those of commercial and traditional institutions and projects

How does Wikipedia cover your field? How’s that changing?





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The Future of Text is almost now

Howard Rheingold and Pascal Zachary at the Future of Text Symposium, 2015.

Futurists are fond of predicting that, one day, humans will communicate telepathically, thus drastically reducing the need for the written and spoken word. Until that day arrives, however, mere mortals must continue to communicate primarily with text,  a vehicle fraught with pitfalls but loaded with  potential.

It is the latter that will be the focus of a fast-paced, one-day symposium in the Bay Area August 25. The Future of Text Symposium is most certainly becoming one of the most esoteric intellectual endeavors of our time.

And while it has been steadily evolving since first presented in 2011 at the British Library in London, the concept remains the same: Brilliant minds gather to share their most cogent thoughts on where text has been, where it is and where it’s going–and they do it within a interactive structure that keeps the idea stream rushing along in a  torrent.

We must say with considerable pride that Wiki Strategies is both a sponsor of this year’s FOT, and, through founder Pete Forsyth, a participant. Pete, like the others on the panel, will have his 15  minutes of, if not fame, foment–10 minutes to present his most critical thoughts on text, and what lessons about its future may be drawn from 15 years of Wikipedia, followed by 5 minutes of discussion.

He’ll be sharing the stage with, among others, the following luminaries:

  • Peter Norvig, director of research for Google.
  • Ted Nelson, thinker, poet, philosopher, coiner of the word “hypertext.”
  • Bruce Horn, Chief Scientist for Smart Devices, Intel and creator of Macintosh Finder.
  • Marc Canter, tech evangelist known as the “godfather of multimedia”
  • Livia Polanyi, consulting professor of linguistics, Stanford University. Formerly principal researcher for Microsoft, focusing on natural language processing.
  • Heather Gold, stand-up comedian and champion of interactive, online shows.

The symposium is presided over by Frode Hegland, self-described as the developer of “the powerful OS X utility Liquid | Flow and Liquid | Author, a new perspective in word processing. He is collaborating on The Time Browser project and is part of the Knowledge Federation.

His co-host is Houria Iderkou, founder and owner of skin care company Néfertari. She and Frode have worked together on various projects for more than  a decade, and have nurtured FOT along  since its inception.

We’d love to have everyone come to  Mountain View on the 25th to join in the repartee, but, unfortunately, the event is already  maxed out capacity wise. You see, the in crowd in the text world avidly awaits the announcement of upcoming symposia and seats disappear quickly. But we intend to do a bit of filming while we’re there, and we’ll be writing about the event in this space. So stay tuned and we’ll bring you the highlights–in text and video, and, hopefully, so robustly communicated that you will feel as though you were there in person.

These organizations are cosponsors of the Symposium:

Posted in events, journalism, Open Access, open educational resources, wiki, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Open Innovation Communities (for AOM)

Some thoughts and links about Wikipedia, to support the Professional Development Workshop led by Joe Cox at the 2016 Academy of Management annual meeting.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is the largest, and most widely read, publication in history; but perhaps more significantly, it has been built by hundreds of thousands of disparate volunteers, making it arguably the most extensive and impactful collaborative project in history.

It’s based on wiki software, invented in 1995. Wikipedia was launched in 2001, initially as an experiment. The policy framework and the social norms are as vital to Wikipedia’s identity as the software; basic principles were articulated early on, and each language edition’s volunteer community writes its own more specific policies.

See: Books about Wikipedia

Why do people contribute to Wikipedia?

Essentially: “I like the idea of sharing knowledge and want to contribute to it,” and “I saw an error I wanted to fix.”

My personal experience: Being part of a learning and teaching community, meeting smart, passionate, and knowledgeable people. This perspective is somewhat “taboo”; strong sense that “we are not Facebook.”

So, what does contributing look like?

How do professionals work alongside volunteers?

  • Cultural institutions (GLAM-Wiki): Wikipedians in Residence, content donations/uploads, edit-a-thons.
  • Companies: Conflict of interest is an important concern. Employees must disclose their connection to the company, per tradition and, since 2014, per Terms of Use. (See various approaches compared.)

What has been tried to further engage volunteers?

Number of editors, diversity of editors, expertise of editors are all considered priorities. Here are a few things that have been successful, to some degree, at increasing participation:

Software, policies, and cultural evolution: We have to make it easy.

  • Software: Pete Forsyth, presentation at the Future of Text Symposium (2015): Seven principles that support effective collaboration
  • Policies: Broad community input is necessary, and messy; process of developing/refining policy could use work.
  • Cultural evolution: Focus has often been on remedial issues (dealing with harassment, vandalism, etc.); focus on promoting what works well is needed.


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