In good faith: the collaborative culture of Wikipedia


 Joseph M. Reagle Jr.


A thesis proposal
presented to New York University
in fulfillment of the
thesis proposal requirement for the degree of
Doctorate of Philosophy
Culture and Communication
New York, USA 2006

© Joseph M. Reagle Jr., 2005, 2006

Table of Contents

1 The research objective

1.1 Introduction

1.2 Statement of research objectives

1.3 Specific research questions

1.4 Key terms

1.5 Delimitations

2 Key concepts

2.1 Commonality (epistemology)

2.2 Communication

2.3 Community

2.4 Culture

3 Methodology

3.1 Methods

3.2 Ethics

4 References

5 Appendix: Nonpublic communication consent form

6 Appendix: Screen Shots

6.1 My Watchlist

6.2 History

6.3 Differences

6.4 Edit

6.5 Talk or Discussion



1 The research objective

1.1 Introduction

The Wikipedia is not merely an online encyclopedia; while the Web site is useful, popular, and permits anyone to contribute, the site is only the most visible artifact of an active community. Unlike previous reference works which stand on library shelves distanced from the institutions, people, and discussions from which they arose, the Wikipedia is a community and the encyclopedia is a snapshot of its continuing conversation. That conversation reflects and, of course, shapes the Wikipedia culture. For example, conversations are supposed to abide by the cultural norm of Wikiquette (Wikipedia 2006w1), which includes the principles of "assume good faith" (Wikipedia2006ag) and "please do not bite the newcomers" (Wikipedia2005pdn). Such Wikipedia norms and their relationship to the technology, discourse, and vision of a free on-line encyclopedia prompt me to ask, what factors contribute to the development and maintenance of this community's collaborative—"good faith" — culture?

In recent years, scholars have turned their attention to the phenomenon of voluntary and open communities using Internet-based communication to produce content— most famously Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), but also prose, audio, and visual works. Some researchers apply an economic lens to ask what motivates pro-social behavior absent immediate monetary rewards, and posit new models of organization such as the "commons-based peer-production" (Benkler 2002) or the "private-collective innovation model” (von Hippel and von Krogh 2003). Others adapt sociological and psychological models of group dynamics, cognition, trust, and decision making to these communities (Surowiecki 2004). And within the field of Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) authors address how people's sense of self, relations, and media evolve (Turkle 1995; Rheingold 1993, 2002). Finally, scholars such as Froomkin (2003) and Yates and Orlikowski (2002) apply social theories, such as those of Habermas (1984) or Giddens (1984) respectively, to organizations using information technologies.

Each of these approaches is relevant but incomplete. First, most of these approaches tend to be ahistorical – this is not surprising given the phenomena are so recent, but this also an opportunity. One could apply to the Wikipedia the historical approach found in Morton's (1994) The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove's Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics. For example, in what ways does the objection to the inclusion of the word "ain't" in the Third resemble contemporary criticisms of Wikipedia authority and legitimacy? Second, the cultural development and present-day meaning of the collaborative culture and its product remains largely unexplored. This could be remedied by following the path Sheeran (1996) takes in Beyond Majority Rules in which he traces the historical development of the consensus-based decision making culture of Quakers to present-day practice. He asks, historically, how did the Quaker's response to 17th-century persecution affect community decision-making? Or, presently, do contemporary members believe a successful meeting is a case of skilled facilitation, or the discernment of the will of God? Likewise, one could ask why is the present-day Wikipedia "radically open" and how do people today conceive of their collaboration?

I propose a project, similar to Morton's and Sheeran's, on the Wikipedia community. I intend to use Schein's (2004) theories of organizational culture to frame the development of Wikipedia's collaborative culture. I expect such notions as dialogue (Bohm 1996), communicative action (Habermas 1991), empathy (Preece 1998, 2004), and perspective making and taking (Boland and Tenkasi 1995) will help me understand how the community speaks about the sociable spirit and intersubjective meaning of Wikipedia interaction. Kelty's (2005) notion of a recursive public should also prove useful in considering the implications of the short distance between this community's discourse and their tools of discourse — i.e., they are one and the same when one can use the Wiki to develop encyclopedic articles, discuss those articles, and discuss how those articles should be developed and discussed!

I plan to use archives (encyclopedic articles, their discussion pages, and mailing lists), commentary (blog and press reactions and discussion) and discussions with participants to answer the questions below. I hope to show how the technical foundation (the Wiki), the purpose (an encyclopedia), leadership, and existing cultures (free/open-source) shaped the Wikipedia collaborative culture.

I will present evidence that the Wikipedia project is extensive (many articles on many topics exist), pervasive (significant usage), influential (becoming a common reference of choice), and novel (given the community and its use of technology). But, remember, that these are attributes of the encyclopedia itself and my primary concern is with the development of the culture that generates it. For example, a central norm of Wikipedia is that articles should be written from a Neutral Point Of View (NPOV) (Wikipedia 2006npv). While, this at first it seems like an impossible, or even naïve, reach towards an objectively neutral knowledge, it is quite the opposite. The NPOV policy instead recognizes the multitude of viewpoints and provides an epistemic stance in which they all can be recognized as instances of human knowledge — right or wrong. The NPOV policy seeks to achieve the "fair" representation of all sides of the dispute such that all can feel represented. Articles should explain without advocating, characterize without engaging, and honor the intellectual independence of the readers by refraining from dogmatism (Wikipedia 2006npv). Hence, the clear goal of providing an encyclopedia of all human knowledge explicitly avoids many entanglements. Yet, when disagreements do occur they often involve alleged violations of NPOV. Most often, this is because a new participant is ignorant of or in opposition to the NPOV policy. In some circumstances, the debate legitimately raises substantive questions about NPOV. Consequently, while the perception is that NPOV is the source of much debate, it may act rather as a conduit: reducing conflict and otherwise channeling outstanding arguments in the productive context of the primary goal of developing an encyclopedia that is representative of many viewpoints.

1.2 Statement of research objectives

How did the Wikipedia culture of collaboration develop; particularly, how is the community's highly reflective discourse about itself shaped by and, in turn, shape that culture? For example, how does the Wikipedia community approach questions about authority, leadership, neutrality, interaction, and quality? Or, how are norms of friendliness and civil interaction encouraged, and how are they perceived to effect the production of articles? I hope to provide a nuanced description of this community from two perspectives:

  1. to place the Wikipedia within a history of collaborative knowledge production and its discourse, focusing on the production and reception of similar reference works, specifically dictionaries and encyclopedia in print, as well as more recent online reference works, early Wikis, and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development;
  2. to identify the cultural practices, and their meanings to the community, of collaborative Wikipedia interaction and its affective features (e.g., the spirit of good faith).

1.3 Specific research questions

The primary research objective above will be answered by progressively addressing each of the questions below:

  1. What is the collaborative culture, the norms and practices of interaction, within this community?
  2. How did this culture develop and how was it shaped by the vision of an encyclopedia built upon a Wiki, among other factors?
  3. What do contributors, readers, and commentators make of this phenomenon? How is this similar and/or different from its historical antecedents (e.g., print encyclopedias) and contemporary peers (e.g. FOSS)?
  4. What implication does the historical trajectory of this encyclopedia and the meaning invested in and arising from it have for the Wikipedia and collaborative cultures in general?

1.4 Key terms

In this proposal I use terms that are relatively new/specialized (e.g., Wiki) or are common words I use in a particular way (e.g., community). In this section I stipulate the ways in which these terms are used in the proposal.

Ward Cunningham (2004) named his project WikiWikiWeb or Wiki– borrowed from the Hawaiian expression "Wiki Wiki" for super fast – to indicate the ease with which one could edit web pages. With a Wiki, the user enters a simplified markup into a form on a Web page. (A more complete explanation of Wiki features is provided in the appendix.) The server-side Wikipedia software translates this into the appropriate HTML and hypertext links. To create a new page, one simply creates a link to it! Furthermore, each page often includes links through which one can sign in (if desired), view a log of recent changes to the page (including the author, change, and time), or participate in a discussion about how the page is being edited – and this too is a Wiki page. Another publishing tool is the Web log, or blog, an online journal of a single or small number of authors, with postings appearing in reverse chronological order. While there is commentary and linking between blogs, they are different from Wiki's in that the text is not collaboratively edited.

Sproull, Conley, and Moon (2004) borrow the term prosocial(from Eisenberg and Miller) to characterize online “Net” communities that exhibit behavior that is intentional, voluntary, and benefits others. I use the word community to speak of a group of interdependent people who "participate together in discussion and decision making and who share certain practices that both define the community and are restored by it" (Bellah et al. 1996:333). I speak of cultureas the “way of life of a people” (Blackburn 1996), the value-laden system of "meaning making" through which a community understands and acts, including its own maintenance and reproduction: "culture acts as a set of basic assumptions that defines for us what to pay attention to, what things mean, how to react emotionally to what is going on, and what actions to take in various kinds of situations" (Schein 2004:32). Open content communities(Reagle 2004) are prosocial communities that operate with the intention of producing content, such as an operating system or an encyclopedia, that is publicly available. The culture of such communities is characterized by voluntary participation, and processes that are largely transparent and non-discriminatory beyond merit. Because the products of such communities are governed by copyright licenses which permit others to make derivations, such communities face a possibility of a fork: others taken a copy of the product and continuing to work on it elsewhere. I use the term collaboration as an interactive activity of shared purpose (something which cooperation and coordination do not require) that often encourages and emerges from a common understanding between participants and often manifests a result for which the whole is greater than its sum parts; to collaborate is to "co-labor," or work together, towards a common end.

Since I will be discussing the potential for finding a common understanding between people, and many claims of Wikipedia discourse are about what is factual or neutral, I provide brief introductions to four epistemological terms. By objectivity I mean the physical, "real," world; we might think of it as that which prompts our experiences. Subjectivity pertains “to the subject and his or her particular perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires” (Solomon 1995); it as that which is "in a person's head." Intersubjectivityis a shared perspective between two or more people that is a foundation for interaction (Narveson 1995). Intersubjectivity precedes and exceeds simple agreement, as it also speaks to the personal experience of "walking in another's shoes," and the intention towards and experience of interaction. The implication is that there may be a transsubjectivity: “if subjective processes can be brought into agreement, then perhaps that is as good as the (unattainable?) status of being 'objective' completely independent of subjectivity” (Narveson 1995). A transsubjectivity is simply a shared claim with objectivity as its subject and aspiration. (Intersubjectivities that do not concern themselves with objective reality might be the shared experiences of physical rapport or spiritual communion.)

1.5 Delimitations

As stated previously, this study will investigate the development and understanding of a particular culture. Two key aspects of the Wikipedia ("Wiki" + "pedia") are the technology of the Wiki (the material cause – if you will) and the resulting encyclopedia (the final cause). While each of these is necessary to understanding my research objective, I will avoid isolating or exaggerating them.

Some analyses of technology treat it as an almost autonomous or deterministic force. I abstain from this approach. First, human interaction is almost always mediated by some form of technology which then affects the character of interaction. For example, ironically, reference works, yet another source of information, were a response to the glut of information arising from the printing press and an increase in general literacy (McArthur 1986). Second, because the importance of discourse/action in my project, I favor theories of technology with a practice oriented understanding of the recursive interaction between people, technologies, and social action (Orlikowski 2000:405; also see Giddens 1984; Desanctis and Poole 1994; Orlikowski 1992).

Similarly, while the form (an encyclopedia) of the product will be essential to understanding the culture of Wikipedia, the goal is not to simply place Wikipedia within a comprehensive timeline of reference works. Like technology, the encyclopedic purpose influences the Wikipedia culture of collaboration, and understanding how this is so is part of this study, but a complete history of reference works abstracted from this question is not. Instead, I plan to identify strong themes in the development of reference works throughout history that might be relevant to the Wikipedia, and then turn to the specific historical development of digital antecedents (e.g., Project Gutenberg, Interpedia, Nupedia) and the Wikipedia itself.

The topics of "technology" and "reference" works are the foundation and aspiration within which the culture has evolved; understanding the character of these boundaries is essential but should not be mistaken for the phenomenon itself.

Furthermore, this study is an analysis of the historical and cultural development of collaborative practices and associated meaning making within a community. While I will be introducing notions of collaboration, friendliness, neutrality and authority so as to understand how this community understands and acts relative to these concepts, these are not the primary research objectives. For example, to address the question of authority I will not directly compare articles from the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia in order to discern quantifiable or qualitative differences, but I would provide the necessary background, including citations of such work, in order to address how the larger community understands and speaks of possible differences.

Finally, while some of the existing literature on the topic of content production by related communities is economic, this is not my focus. As Sheeran (1977:140) notes: "the rationalist starting point that actors always maximize personal utilities is helpful for understanding many actions. But it is just not enough." Models of organizations such as production and community are discussed further in the next section.

1.5.1 Proposed outline

  1. Introduction
  2. The historical reference work: four perspectives

    1. Technology and institutions: conquest, co-option, trade wars, empire and religion
    2. Conservative and progressive impulses: fixating or shattering the social order
    3. Great and eccentric personalities: the perseverance of men who dedicate their lives to the tasks of organizing everything known about the universe
    4. Collaboration: standing on the shoulders of giants, cooperation, and plagiarism
  3. The history of digital reference works

    1. The World Brain and the Memex
    2. the Internet and the Web
    3. Project Gutenberg, Interpedia, Distributed Encyclopedia
    4. Free software and GNUPedia
    5. Nupedia, Wiki, Wikipedia and its forks
  4. Ethnography and issues encountered

    1. Bias
    2. Leadership
    3. Decision making
    4. Authority/Legitimacy
    5. Etiquette
    6. Friendliness
    7. Exit
  5. Conclusion


2 Key concepts

At my first seminar at the Department of Culture and Communication, I learned of a metaphor for understanding the work of the program: the media is the petri dish in which culture grows. In this section I try to frame my research question with a similar metaphor: what are the essential concepts necessary to house my investigation into how the Wikipedia culture developed? These concepts are encountered within the four walls of commonality, communication, community, and culture.

Wikipedia is a community of knowledge workers intent on producing an exemplar of modern knowledge: the reference work. And they do so in a highly collaborative way: a hundred-fold accumulation of edits. This process often requires an ability to engage with others so as to jointly make a claim about the world. Consequently, I employ a literature to address questions about the epistemic potential for common ground between people, how communication can realize that common ground, and how that shared space is a foundation for community and culture. Since the Wikipedia community is mediated by recent information technologies, I also address questions of how this particular technology interacts with the features of communication and community.

This review is not exhaustive of all possible literature on these topics. Instead, it is oriented towards characteristics of the specific community and the theories I will argue are most appropriate to understanding it. Also, in this review I do not address the ground floor of this phenomenon, the technology of the Wiki, the Web, and the associated techno-culture of openness. Nor do I address the roof of the research project: reference work production. Both of these are left to the dissertation. And while I expect to encounter issues of authority, bias, decision-making, etiquette, and leadership, these, too, are left to the dissertation.

2.1 Commonality (epistemology)

Much of the contention of Wikipedia discussion arises from questions of objectivity and truth — as evidenced in the articles on evolution and global climate change! As noted, the Neutral Point of View page addresses this problem by squarely acknowledging there may be differing perspectives:

A solution is that we accept, for the purposes of working on Wikipedia, that "human knowledge" includes all different significant theories on all different topics. So we're committed to the goal of representing human knowledge in that sense. Something like this is surely a well-established sense of the word "knowledge"; in this sense, what is "known" changes constantly with the passage of time, and when we use the word "know", we often use so-called scare quotes. Europeans in the Middle Ages "knew" that demons caused diseases. We now "know" otherwise. (Wikipedia 2006npv)

While I am not a philosopher, I believe it will be useful to briefly consider some philosophers of communication in order to discover definitions and frameworks that will be helpful in considering the Wikipedia case.

In Theories of Truth, Richard Kirkham (1995:2) notes that notions of truth vary. When philosophers address the topic, they might be undertaking any number of projects, such as asking what is truth, what is it for something to be true, what do we mean by the terms truth and falsehood, what are criterion of truth, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions of a statement's truth? Or, perhaps they are providing a descriptive account of the use of "true," specifying criteria of evidence, or showing how truth conditions depend on sentence structure. Furthermore, philosophers pursuing these notions might often be vague in their description of their project, confusing in that they conflate the distinct projects above without realizing it, ambiguous in that they use the same words for different concepts (e.g., "myth" as false or "myth" as believed to be true by the individual), misleading in using different words for the same concepts (e.g., "transsubjective" and "objective"). Consequently, I will briefly touch upon the work of scholars concerned with communication to pose an understanding of subjective experience, common intersubjective ground, and shared hints of objectivity.

As highlighted by Stuart Barnett (1994), the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (1973) distinguishes between the objective world and the subjective truths we hold about it. As such, the objects of statements are not ephemeral; statements are about "something in the world" (p. 167): "things and happenings" which prompts subjective experience. We come to understand the objectivity of these experiences by sharing them with others in the form of propositions (p. 168). The "truth" of such propositions is dependent on the preponderance with which they occur and are confirmed; it is not directly "corroborated by processes happening in the world but by a consensus achieved by argumentative reasoning" (p. 169). (Such a conception might be categorized as a consensus theoryof truth with respect to the social understanding, but also a correspondence theory with respect to its aspiration to correlate with objective reality.) Similarly, Bohm notes that our social reality is "a reality created by all the people through their consciousness. It has some 'objective' features you can point to once people have created it, particularly because there are so many taking part – it is statistical" (Bohm 1996:88).

Reality prompts experiences, which when intersubjectively shared can indicate a transsubjective portrait of that reality. Consequently, a "judgment can be objective if it is undertaken on the basis of a transsubjective validity claim that has the same meaning for observers and non-participants as it has for the acting subject himself" (Habermas 1984:9). (Grady Seals (1998:59) argues that a rereading of the French theorist Foucault yields a similar conclusion.) Yet, while such a judgment may be subjectively experienced as true, intersubjectively discerned and transsubjectively claimed as such, it is not necessarily identical to reality itself. As Barnett (1994) puts it:

Subjective experience is validated inasmuch as it is adequate to this objective reality. Disagreement about objective reality must be attributed to differences in individual subjective experiences. Logically, therefore, it requires intersubjective debate to winnow out the idiosyncrasies of individual subjective experience. Consensus makes it possible for subjectivity to secure the status granted to it by objective reality.

In An Inquiry into the Good, Kitaro Nishida, a Japanese philosopher, places greater weight on experience creating the self rather than the common European perspective of the self experiencing: "what we know is not the mind itself but the activity of knowing" (1990:39). Yet, he still posits a discerned independent world:

When the phenomena are universal – when a unity transcendent of the limited, individual consciousness is maintained – we regard them as constituting an independent objective world. For example, a lamp is here before me. If I am the only one who can see it, it might be deemed a subjective hallucination. But when each of us acknowledges it in the same way it becomes an objective fact. The objective, independent world arises from such a universal character. (Nishida 1990:54)

To be fair, while I have tried to show commonalities between authors and commentators from different cultures there are differences. Recall Kirkham's cautions against vagueness, ambiguity, misleading reduplication, and conflation in theories of truth. Or, that Seals, when speaking of Foucault may not mean exactly the same thing by "intersubjective" as Barnett means when speaking of Habermas. Or that I read Habermas, Foucault, and Nishida in English translations from German, French, and Japanese respectively. However, there does appear to be a convergence that I employ in the following brief example.

Both Ptolemy, who argued for the geocentric solar system, and Copernicus, who argued for a heliocentric one, experienced subjective perceptions of a genuine reality: the sky above. Each used their subjectivity (their perceptions, pre-existing knowledge, cognitive processes – all of which can be biased) to formulate and express a theory of the earth's place in the solar system. These perceptions and their related thoughts were also exchanged with their peers in the intersubjective space within which their conversations took place. (This common space for mutual understanding is sometimes referred to as "ba" as discussed in the next section.) Indeed, when Copernicus rebutted Ptolemy he relied upon many intersubjective commonalities in order to participate in the debate. And when Copernicus finally "won," the transsubjectivity of the solar system, inferred from a reality imperfectly known, shifted from Ptolemy to Copernicus, though objective reality – the things out there – did not. Consequently, those concerned with a consensus like theory of truth, such as Habermas, can state, "the truth of a theory in no way determines the objectivity of its experiential content." (Jürgen Habermas, Erkenntnis und Interesse, as translated into English by Barnett (1994).) Though, one can hope that if objectivity does not determine, it at least informs our "experiential content" and theories that we "know" to be true today.

2.2 Communication

2.2.1 Models of communication

Nishida (1990:51) argues that "True reality, like the true meaning of art, is not something that can be transmitted from one person to another. All we can transmit is an abstract shell." Yet the Wikipedia Dispute Resolution page recommends: "The first resort in resolving almost any conflict is to discuss the issue on a talk page" (Wikipedia 2006dr). How then might humans communicate so as to arrive at a shared transsubjectivity? Nishida notes that "[w]e may think that by means of the same language we understand the same thing, to some extent the content necessarily differs" (1990:51). What of these differences?

A number of communications theorists have proposed models by which communication occurs. Unfortunately, while I believe there's a great commonality to each of the theories I describe, there's also a much confusion arising from philosophical and disciplinary differences – quite in keeping with Kirkham's (1995) warnings. For example, Carey distinguishes between a transmission view of communication (much like the "conduit model" of Boland and Tenkasi (1995:352)) and a "ritual view of communication [that] is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs" (1989:18). Reinhardt (2003ckc:13) makes a similar distinction: "(1) Knowledge is not passively received either through the senses or by way of communication, but is actively built up by the cognizing subject. (2) The function of cognition is adaptive and serves the subject's organization of the experiential world, not the discovery of an objective ontological reality." Each of these perspectives intends to move the understanding of communication away from an engineering-like model of "'imparting,' 'sending,' 'transmitting,' or 'getting information to others'" (Carey 1989:15). Fair enough. Yet, it is difficult to believe that Reinhardt, for example, believes that ontological reality does not exist, or has no effect upon the experiential world. Sokal (1998) notes that such a posture in the social sciences results from conflating two or more of the following levels of analysis:

1) Ontology. What objects exist in the world? What statements about these objects are true?

2) Epistemology. How can human beings obtain knowledge of truths about the world? How can they assess the reliability of that knowledge?

3) Sociology of knowledge. To what extent are the truths known (or knowable) by humans in any given society influenced (or determined) by social, economic, political, cultural and ideological factors? Same question for the false statements erroneously believed to be true. (1998:14)

Fortunately, Habermas provides clarity by distinguishing between the subjective, social, and objective worlds: communicative actors move "in the medium of natural language, draw upon the culturally transmitted interpretations, and relate simultaneously to something in the objective world, something in their common social world, and something in each's own subjective world" (Habermas 1996:392). Conflating these levels might be done out of simple ignorance, or for ideological purposes. In the latter case, for example, one might privilege the objectivist stance (e.g. "I'm a scientist and therefore right") or to attack it (e.g. "that position is socially constructed and of no more authority than any other"). However, following Habermas, it is perhaps best to distinguish between the domains of which we speak, and judge each on its appropriate merits.

2.2.2 Shared Context and Misunderstandings

For Habermas, the domain from which intersubjectivity is derived from is the Lifeworld: "whereas the formal world concepts constitute a reference system for that about which mutual understanding is possible: speakers and hearers come to an understanding from out of their common Lifeworld about something in the objective, social, or subjective worlds" (Habermas 1987:126). And there are many theoretical approaches to the notion of shared context. For example, in information technology (IT) literature Nardi and Whittaker are concerned with "how people get into a state where communication can take place" (2002:85) and posit "social 'fields' within which communication can take place" (2002:84). Or, for Cramton (2001:346) mutual knowledge is the context communicating parties share in common (Cramton 2001:346). Nonaka and Konno (1998) employ the Japanese term "ba" as a "shared space for emerging relationships" and write:

To participate in a ba means to get involved and transcend one's own limited perspective or boundary. This exploration is necessary in order to profit from the 'magic synthesis' of rationality and intuition that produces creativity. Within an organization, then, one can both experience transcendence in ba and yet remain analytically rational, achieving the best of both worlds. (p. 41)

This sentiment is remarkably similar to the notion of WikiLove: "If we keep this common goal, this love of knowledge, in mind, if we concentrate on achieving a neutral point of view even when it is difficult, if we try to actually understand what the other side has to say, then we can reach the state of 'WikiLove' (Wikipedia 2006w). Of course, as already indicated by Nishida, there is a great deal of room for misunderstanding. Lorna et al. (2004:10) explains that: "Perfect correspondence of subjective meanings can never occur because of the diversity of actors' identities, experiences, and interpretive preferences. Examinations of intersubjectivity thus turn from meaning correspondence to the continual (re)formation of the mutual context that introduces possibilities for ambiguity and instability into each communication episode." Boland and Tenkasi (1995:351) note: "Thought worlds with different funds of knowledge and systems of meaning cannot easily share ideas, and may view one another's central issues as esoteric, if not meaningless." Habermas (1984:100) writes that:

For both parties the interpretive task consists in incorporating the other's interpretation of the situation into one's own world in such a way that in the revised version 'his' external world and 'my' external world can-against the background of 'our' lifeworld-be relativized in relation to 'the' world, and the divergent situation definitions can be brought to coincide sufficiently. Naturally this does not mean that interpretation must lead in every case to a stable and unambiguously differentiated assignment. Stability and absence of ambiguity are rather the exception in the communicative practice of everyday life

These ambiguities can arise from problems identified by Cramton (2001):

  1. a failure to communicate and retain contextual information (e.g., local schedules),
  2. unevenly distributed information (e.g., some members may have missed an e-mail due to technical problems and faulty first impressions are maintained)
  3. the differences in the salience of information among members (e.g., request for feedback are often not appreciated as such)
  4. relative differences in speed of access (e.g., some members may not have access to a computer or the computer/network facilities may be significantly different)
  5. the varied interpretations of the meaning of silence (e.g., agreement, indifference, unavailability, etc. )

Critical communication theorists, such as Stuart Hall in Encoding/Decoding, include within their model the possibility of misunderstanding, as a feature – not necessarily a bug. This is because a particular transsubjectivity can include a "lack of equivalence between two sides of the communication exchange" (Hall 1992:169) which advantages those whose interests become naturalized within the means of symbolic exchange. Consequently, the "commonsense" (Geertz 1983) meanings of communication might become contested and buffeted by negotiated or oppositional decodings (1992:138). And Hall is not alone; or, rather, it would be rare for a critical theorist not to address the notion of implicit and privileging assumptions in communicative relationships. In addition to Hall's naturalization, there is the doxa and symbolic violence (unrecognized domination) of Bourdieu; the episteme and disciplinary/paradigmatic norms of Foucault; the exnomination ('unnaming') of bourgeois ideology by Barthes; the false consciousness of Engels; the hegemony of Gramsci; the ideology of Marx; the phantasmagoria of Kant, Marx, Adorno, and Benjamin; the dream world of Williams; the ontological security (via routinization) of Giddens; the symbolic violence of Weber; and the technological veil of Marcuse and Adorno.

However, aside from post-modern playfulness or radical monkey-wrenching, for the most part when we do communicate we hope to do so clearly. While communication is imperfect, it is not arbitrary. Though a critical pose is commendable, let us remember that: "we engage in communication to achieve something impossible in isolation" (Lorna et al. 2004:9). Communication is imperfect and problematic, but we should not stop trying to communicate with and understand one another.

2.2.3 Intersubjectivity, context and perspective

Many communication scholars, when facing a troubled world, want to foster better communication. As Howe (2000:69) notes, "so little of the 'communicating' we indulge in really deserves that name. We don't try to understand each other; we chatter at one another. What is missing is a mutuality of a genuine attempt to reach agreement."

What can go missing in communication is context: beyond explicit communication, and body language even, "there are also deeper tacit processes" (Bohm 1996:14). However, when those behaviors that may not be "directly observable" are accounted for we can achieve a "mutual intelligibility" (Suchman 1987). Or as Bohm notes, to genuinely communicate is to "make something common" (p. 2).

Interestingly, these contextual, implicit, or tacit, nuggets of information that are missing are not solely about features of objectivity, but subjective: needing to account for the viewpoint of the other person. (Indeed, Bohm (1996:37) isn't even concerned with objectivity; while dialogue may happen to arrive at truth, its concern is with first discovering common meaning.) As the Wikipedia page Writing for the Enemy suggests, "writing for the enemy does not necessarily mean one believes the opposite of the 'enemy' POV [(Point of View)]. The writer may be unsure what position he wants to take, or simply have no opinion on the matter. What matters is that you try to 'walk a mile in their' shoes instead of judging them" (Wikipedia 2006we). By entertaining the perspectives of others, "perspective taking," we are able to identify hidden commonalities (i.e., using similar words for different concepts or different words for similar concepts) and unique information (Boland and Tenkasi 1995) in order to form a more valuable synthesis. Communication can increase cooperation because participants are able to gather information about the choices others are likely to make, they're able to make explicit commitment, and they have the opportunity for moral suasion (Kollock 1998:194). In the negotiation context, negotiators often fail to understand adequately the perspectives of their opponents. Misunderstanding the interest of one's negotiation opponent can lead to erroneous attributions (Morris, Larrick, & Su, 1999), impasses (Thompson, 1990), and a failure to maximize joint gains (Thompson & Hrebec, 1996).

But beyond understanding another's perspective for one's own strategic ends, there other benefits. Following Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal, Thompson and Nadler (2002) rely upon the notion of rapport that consists of "(1) mutual attentiveness (i.e., my attention is focused on you and your attention is focused on me), (2) positivity (i.e., we are friendly to each other), and (3) coordination (i.e., we are in sync, so that we each react spontaneously to the other)" (p. 111). One might place the "[f]ocus of attention upon the same object or activity, and mutual awareness of each others' attention.... this makes the group itself the focus of attention, as a transindividual reality, influencing members from outside while permeating their consciousness from within" (Collins 1990:31). A possible result is that "One gets pumped up with emotional strength from participating in the groups' interaction" (Collins 1990:32). Or, participants can experience "a moment of increased coherence, where the group is able to move beyond its perceived blocks or limitations and into new territory, But it is also a point at which a group may begin to relax and bask in the 'high' that accompanies the experience" (Bohm, Factor and Garrett 1991). In fact, in Electronic Brainstorming: the Illusion of Productivity Pinsonneault et al. (1999) suspect that while less effective as a brainstorming strategy, group brainstorming may be more popular than aggregate individuals working alone because participants fall prey to a baseline fallacy (each member sees more total ideas generated), participants attribute a disproportionate amount of ideas to themselves, or social comparison permits members to optimistically influence their perceived productivity relative to others. (In the case of the Wikipedia, this "illusion" of productivity, the positive "buzz" of making a small contribution through useful interaction, may actually be one of the largest motivations and personal rewards of Wikipedia contribution.)

As Carey indicated, communication is more than just sending "data." Real communication is a change in mental perspective. This led Bohm, Factor, and Garrett (1991) to distinguish the following: "The word 'dialogue' derives from two roots: 'dia' which means 'through' and 'logos' which means 'the word', or more particularly, 'the meaning of the word.' … Dialogue is not discussion, a word that shares its root meaning with 'percussion' and 'concussion,' both of which involve breaking things up." Yankelovich (2001) has adopted this notion of dialogue and stresses that:

[t]he gift of empathy – the ability to think someone else's thoughts and feel someone else's feelings – is indispensable to dialogue. This is why discussion is more common than dialogue: people find it easy to express their opinions and to bat ideas back and forth with others, but most of the time they don't have either the motivation or the patience to respond empathically to opinions with which they may disagree or that they find uncongenial.

The Wikipedia notion of "writing for the enemy" appears to be an excellent example of such dialogue.

2.2.4 Good faith

In a sense, many of these authors are speaking about trust and good faith, the sentiment of Assume Good Faith is important to Wikipedia discourse:

To assume good faith is a fundamental principle on any wiki, including Wikipedia. As we allow anyone to edit, it follows that we assume that most people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it. If this weren't true, a project like Wikipedia would be doomed from the beginning. (Wikipedia 2006agf)

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999:792) cite Cummings and Bromiley to note that a person trusts a group when that person believes that the group "makes a good-faith effort to behave in accordance with any commitments both explicit or implicit, (b) is honest in whatever negotiations preceded such commitments, and (c) does not take excessive advantage of another even when the opportunity is available" (Jarvenpaa and Leidner 1999:792 citing Cummings and Bromiley 1996:303). Kramer and Carnevale (2001:8) note that trust not only affects the expectations of an interaction, but the construal of it afterwards. Indeed, in "good faith" interactions, trust is the supposition that even though one disagrees and hasn't been able to see and understand from the other's perspective, one might be missing something. In such a case, people typically give others the benefit of the doubt and make situational rather than categorical attributions about their behavior (Cramton 2001:361). Sheeran notes that a dissenting Quaker might respond "I disagree but do not wish to stand in the way" because: "For religious reasons, a person may prefer the judgment of the group as 'sincere seekers after the divine leading' to that person's individual judgment. In more secular terms, an individual may recognize the possibility that everyone else is right, or that an important principle is or is not involved" (Sheeran 1996:66). The willingness to recognize another's perspective – without even been able to "take" it in – and still respect it seems like a profound human potential.

2.2.5 Empathy and enjoyment

When writing of his studies of primate behavior de Wall (1996) notes that "terms related to aggression, violence, and competition never posed the slightest problem" to editors and reviewers. Yet, he "was supposed to switch to dehumanized language as soon as the affectionate aftermath of the fight was the issue" (p. 512). Scholars concerned with positive emotional aspects of communication and group interaction sometimes face the double difficulty of studying culture predisposed towards the language of competition (Kohn 1992, Tannen 1998) within disciplines that themselves are skeptical of any model of human behavior outside of that of the rational utility maximizing actor. Fortunately, others challenge this perspective, including Kropotkin's (1902) response to competitive excesses in the application of Darwinism, those who advocate for empathic forms of dialog such as Bohm (1996) and Yankelovich (2001), an extensive body of experimental results showing the operation of affect and empathy in human interaction (Barasch 2005), and rich ethnographies of human interaction. As Sheeran (1977:140) writes, "the rationalist starting point that actors always maximize personal utilities is helpful for understanding many actions. But it is just not enough.… Man is capable of focusing upon the communities' good rather than his own. An account of Quaker decision-making which ignores this reality would be dreadfully inadequate."

Aside from the deficiencies of competitive interaction (e.g., lessens production, lowers motivation, lowers quality, etc.) Kohn (1992:153) cites evidence that competition causes people to anonymize each other: cooperation promotes empathy, whereas competition promotes apathy. Lanzetta and Englis (1989) find that when test subjects were primed with expectations of competition or cooperation in an investment strategy game (with nickel rewards and electric shock penalties), they empathized differently as measured by autonomic responses:

Providing subjects with an expectation that an interaction would be either cooperative or competitive influence the nature of their vicarious emotional responses to the coactors displays of pleasure (smiles) and distress (grimaces). Subjects who had been led to expect a cooperatively structured interaction responded with pronounced empathy towards the coactor (p. 551).

Beyond the possibility of people simply enjoying their interactions with each other more, empathy has a significant effect on cognitive ability. For example, Forgas (1998:566) finds that a good or bad mood, particularly with complex tasks, have a significant priming effect; people in a good mood perform better on creative problem-solving tasks, demonstrate lower levels of anger and hostility, are more altruistic, optimistic, and flexible, and are also more inclined to be helpful. Carnevale and Probst (1998:16) attempt to discern the effects of situational motivation (as primed via tape recorded negotiation instructions) and personality traits (competitive, individualistic, cooperative) on the content of tasks of negotiation and categorizing; they find that conflict can reduce problem-solving abilities.

From studies like these, it is not possible to simply equate happiness, empathy, and productivity. The direction of causality can be difficult to discern and there are mediating variables, such as personality and aspiration. However, I mention these findings to extend my claim that mutuality is important to communication beyond exchanging information. There is an intersubjective dimension - sometimes called cognitive empathy or alterity - that can become situated in persistent communal interactions, that is, a culture. And, then, there is just having fun as the Enjoy Yourself page recommends:

Editors are supposed to enjoy themselves on Wikipedia. This is all too often forgotten.... If you are ever not enjoying yourself, you need to step back and consider what you are doing. Remember how to remain calm when editing becomes stressful. But never let Wikipedia become a chore. (Wikipedia 2006ey)

If one's interaction becomes a chore, one is encouraged to take a Wikiholiday!

2.2.6 Online communication

The Wikiquette page cautions editors against some of the hazards of online communication:

Keep in mind that raw text is ambiguous and often seems ruder than the same words coming from a person standing in front of you. Irony isn't always obvious — text comes without facial expressions, vocal inflection or body language. Be careful of the words you choose — what you intended might not be what others perceive, and what you read might not be what the author intended. ( w1)

Much of the literature on computer mediated communication (CMC) finds differences (process gains and losses) in interactive tasks over different media (face-to-face is often the base case), and attempts to explain these differences with respect to how the information is exchanged. Walther (1996) provides an extensive review of a decade's worth of literature and finds that CMC interactions typically feature more equal member participation (p. 7), can be found to be very rewarding by participants (p. 8), and tends to communicate less social context information, though this can be augmented with additional time (p.13 ). With respect to other participants, CMC message receivers tend to inflate the perceptions of their partners, an "over-attribution" process (p. 17); when participants perceive they're in a group relationship they tend to hold to a "social self-categorization" rather than individual categorization (p. 18); and personal traits of others are evaluated by performance rather than appearance (Walther p. 20). Also, CMC's effect is specific to the task at hand. So for example, CMC groups reach a decision less frequently when given a restricted amount of time (p. 15), but asynchronous communication is useful in scheduling and committing to bite-sized tasks (p. 24). (Similarly, Briggs et al. (1997) provides a massive review of Group Support Systems (GSS) research finding across its application in organizations, groups, cultures, software, collaborative writing, electronic polling, classrooms, etc.; and Walther, Gay and Hancock (2005) evaluate recent research with respect to multimedia, hypertextuality, packet switching, synchronicity, and interactivity.)

While the types of processes/tasks that have been studied is extensive those that I most interested in for the case of the Wikipedia are those that affect collaboration (e.g., anonymity and synchronicity) and its constituent components (e.g., helping, trust, and negotiation).

The seminal paper of Sproull and Kiesler (1986) finds that the decrease in social context from electronic communication has substantial deregulating effects including self absorption, status equalization, and uninhibited behavior. While this finding was often interpreted to have negative implications for mediated communications, there can be positive consequences as well. For example, Constant, Kiesler and Sproull (1996) find that people do not often have a personal connection to the person they help on a computer network. Indeed, some have argued that anonymous interactions can improve decision making quality by encouraging the provision of information that otherwise would've remain suppressed. However, McLeod et al. (1997) challenge this notion: in an experimental comparison of face-to-face groups, the anonymous conditions that facilitate the expression of minority arguments may also diminish their influence on the group.

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999) address the challenges of creating and maintaining trust in a global virtual team. While virtual teams promise flexibility, responsiveness, lower-cost, and improved resource utilization; such teams may suffer from low individual commitment, role overload, role ambiguity, absenteeism, and social loafing (p. 791). The authors find virtual teams can develop swift trust, but it is very fragile and this implies virtual teams should have clear responsibilities, guidelines for interaction, address issues of likely tension early, carefully choose individuals suited to this work style, and participants must give feedback (p. 812).

Thompson and Nadler (2002) find biases that effect e-mail negotiations including those that might also appear in Wikipedia interactions: (a) temporal synchrony bias: negotiators behave as if they're in a synchronous situation (i.e. expecting an immediate response and lacking the ability to make quick corrections); (b) burned bridge bias: people pose tests to the other (e.g., if I don't hear from you within an hour I am not sending any more offers); (c) squeaky wheel bias: people can easily adopt negative emotional styles; and (d) sinister attribution bias: social identity theory suggests that the more similar we perceive others, the more cooperative and trusting where likely to be.

In studying the MicroMuse community Smith (1999) notes that technology exacerbated conflict because members existed across time zones; those who don't write/type well are at a disadvantage and become frustrated; and evidence in disputes is easily falsified (p. 155). Yet, there are also benefits in that people, when inclined, have more time to compose their thoughts, and the media minimizes social-economic differences.

It will be interesting to see how these findings apply in the Wikipedia case.

2.3 Community

Upon reflecting on the previous section I feel it might be useful to reframe the approach I have taken so as to make clear my intentions for this section on community. With respect to communication, I don't intend to imply that all communication is dialogic, that it necessarily involves the taking, at least in part, of another's perspective. Some communication is "transmission" oriented: the sending of simple statements (e.g., directives). Yet, this type of communication doesn't account for humans as empathic and sociable actors. (However, this doesn't mean all communication must be dialogic, as the particular practice intended by Bohm, Factor and Garrett (1991) excludes all end goals or purposes beyond the "unfoldment and revelation of the deeper collective meanings.") Now, as I begin to address communities, I do not wish to imply that a community is just two or more people communicating, nor that all communities are happy little collectives. However, as evidenced by the fact that I have already been speaking about groups in the previous section, I am interested in notions of community wherein the common, mutual, intersubjectively grounded communication becomes part of a community's culture.

2.3.1 The organization of production

But first, just as I had to choose among various theories of communication, there are varied theories of collective behavior. One paradigm is that of Axelrod's (1984) demonstration of how the emergence of cooperation, in games such as the prisoner's dilemma, can be explained as reciprocity based solely on self-interest (p. 72). Another dominant model is represented by Olson's (1971) seminal The Logic of Collective Action which adopts the assumption that organizations advance individuals' interests. Organizations form so as to produce collective goods for the benefits of members; they are able to do so when the small size of the group or the presence of sanctions and incentives are able to encourage member contribution and overcome the problems of defection and free riding common to public goods. However, just as communication is greater than the transmission of information, social groups are more than the exchange of commodities.

2.3.2 Online production

As already noted, a dominant theory of organized behavior is that which is concerned with organization for the purpose of production. Not surprisingly, it is the theory from which seminal work on open content communities arose. Ciffolilli (2003), within the same tradition as Olson, applies transaction cost, team and club theory to the production of the Wikipedia. (A club is when a member's usage does not preclude another's, but they are able to exclude non-members from a good; therefore it is a non-rivalrous and a partially non-excludable good.) Ciffolilli argues the low transaction costs of correcting errors or vandalism is a source of Wikipedia's success – however, I can't help but note that the low transaction costs also contribute to the ease of vandalizing the site.

Aigrain (2004) also attributes the success of open information communities to the lowering of transaction costs, including the monetary cost of exchange, cognitive processing, uncertainty, and privacy risk. Kollock (1999) employs public goods in explaining the "economies of online cooperation," Mauss' (2003) notion of gifts as reciprocal obligations, and the notion of generalized exchange: "if I help a stranded motorist in my community, I do not expect that motorist to return the favor, but I may hope and expect someone else in the community to offer me aid should I be in a similar situation" (p. 222).

Benkler (2002) identifies a "commons-based peer production" as an alternative to the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects without market prices or managerial commands. This approach has the advantage of excelling at identifying and assigning human capital to information and cultural production, and there are substantial increasing returns with large clusters of potential contributors. The four novel attributes of networked informational economy that makes this possible are: these are public goods, there are low capital costs, the centrality of human capital (which yields many information gains), and the decline of communication costs (p. 34). This model of organization is likely sustainable when the work can be broken down into fine grained modules, and where the value of monetary return are small relative to the value of the hedonic and social-psychological rewards (p. 61).

von Hippel and von Krogh (2003) pose a "private-collective" theory that synthesizes aspects of the private model (where innovation is supported by private investment and returns are respectively privately appropriated) and collective model (where non-excludable and non-rivalrous public goods are produced). The synthetic model eliminates from the private model the notion of free riders as a loss to the contributor (instead, it may lead to the benefit of de facto standardization) and from the collective model that the free rider benefits more than the contributor (because the contributor obtains other private benefits).

While many of these authors include within their theories the possibility of "hedonic" or "private" benefits, these models leave issues such as mutuality, elevation, and meaning– the ones I'm most interested in – under-theorized. Yet, as Olson (1971:19) notes, to say humans have an instinct to belong to groups "merely adds a word, not an explanation." For this reason, I find the literature on voluntary associations and knowledge production to be important to my project. Since these collectives are generating "hedonic" benefits or are producing cultural content (including knowledge) rather than physical commodities or services, this literature tends to take a more collectivist point of view. For example, Kogut and Zander (1992:384) claim that firms exist because they provide a social community of voluntaristic action structured by organizing principles that are not reducible to individuals. This is quite different from the other theorists' take on organization in which organization is simply a bundle of contracts between individualistic actors

2.3.3 Collectivism and community

While the economic approach is necessary to understand collective behavior it misses the social and cultural aspects, such as "meaning making." Triandis (1995) defines an alternative to the individualistic approach by defining collectivism as a social pattern consisting of closely linked individuals who see themselves as part of one or more collectives (family, co-workers, tribe, nation). In this view, individuals and the collective are primarily motivated by the norms of, and duties imposed by, those collectives; are willing to give priority to the goals of these collectives over their own personal goals; and emphasize their connectedness to other members. In this approach groups are the unit of analysis and individuals are highly interdependent parts of these groups. Likewise, Bellah et al. (1996) objects to the predominance of the individualistic perspective in American culture and provides a useful definition of community upon which I based my own :

… a community is a group of people who are socially interdependent, who participate together in discussion and decision making, and who share certain practices that both define the community and are nurtured by it. Such a community is not quickly formed. It almost always has a history and so is also a community of memory, defined in part by its past and its memory of its past. (p. 333)

However, the perspectives of maximizing individualism and collective interdependence are not necessarily exclusive. For example, consider the disastrous results of the Balinese central government's intervention in rice production. Lansing and Miller (2003) employ field interviews, Balinese history, and a game theoretic model of upstream/downstream rice farmer's irrigation decisions on how much water to share (resulting in water deprivation or pest damage), to powerfully show that cooperation and efficiency naturally emerged in traditional, local and decentralized scenarios.

2.3.4 Communities of practice

The conceptualization of community that I have found most useful is that of communities of practice, which "develop around things that matter to people. As a result, their practices reflect the members' own understanding of what is important" (Wenger 1998). A community of practice defines itself along the three dimensions:

1) What it is about - its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
2) How it functions - mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
3) What capability it has produced - the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artifacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (1998)

Wenger writes that "A community of practice is different from a business or functional unit in that it defines itself in the doing ... different from a team in that the shared learning and interest of its members are what keep it together ... different from a network in the sense that it is 'about' something; it is not just a set of relationships" (1998). And, much like the tacit information of interpersonal communication, Brown and Duguid (1991) note that there is often a "variance between a major organization's formal descriptions of work both in its training programs and manuals and the actual work practices performed by its members."

2.3.5 Online communities

One conceptualization of the Wikipedia phenomenon is that of a community of cultural/knowledge production. Research on similar communities has focused on the electronic or virtual character of the media or product (Sproull 2003), the voluntary character of participation (Sproull 2003; Sproull, Conley, and Moon 2004), the openness of the community (Aigrain 2004; Reagle 2004); and the process and type of content they produce (Garcia and Steinmueller 2003, Cedergren 2003; Stadler and Hirsh 2002).

Sproull (2003:733) defines a community as "a large, voluntary collectivity whose primary goal is member or social welfare, whose members share a common interest, experience, or conviction, and to interact with one another primarily over the Net." She explicitly excludes from her definition electronic work groups and virtual teams that consist of a relatively small number of paid members with economic goals, and ad hoc groups or buddy lists who primarily interact in the real world. Furthermore, like Benkler, Sproull's definition recognizes the importance of asynchronous communication and "microcontributions" – furthering low barriers to entry – that can be aggregated by software into substantive products.

Sproull, Conley, and Moon (2004) consider a kind of behavior of the "Net" community that is pro-social in that it is intentional, voluntary, and benefits others. From the literature they note that pro-social behavior can be distinguished as altruistic (motivation so as to increase another's welfare) or egoistic (motivated by the desire to increase one's own welfare through helping others); both might be in operation in the Wikipedia.

Finally, literature (e.g., Rheingold (1993) and Turkle (1995)) on CMC often finds significant empathic communication and affective attachment within online communities. Rheingold (1993) used the term "communion" to describe that which was both sought and exhibited by some of the earliest electronic communities, an arrangement that "feels to me more like a kind of gift economy in which people do things for one another out of the spirit of building something between them, rather than a spreadsheet calculated quid pro quo" (1993:59). Such ethnographic/journalistic impressions can also be found by way of quantitative content analysis. In a study of a health-related BBS, Preece (1998) found examples of messages with and without empathy, but characterized 76.8% of the messages as empathic ("to some extent").

2.3.6 Online communities, knowledge, and practice

One of the benefits of the notion of communities of practice is that its concern with meaning and exchange is not at all limited when the community is virtual. Furthermore, the notion of practice is well grounded in empirical phenomenon without recourse to econometric quantification. Finally, the theory has been widely used in the domain of knowledge, which is quite appropriate to online content production communities. For example, in Collaborative Knowledge Creation in Virtual Communities of Practice Reinhardt (2003) parallels my interest in intersubjectivity with his notion of knowledge, in constructivist learning theory, as "context-specific and tacit, [and] has to be recreated within the mind of a learner" (p. 39).

In Wiki: A Technology for Conversational Knowledge Management and Group Collaboration, Wagner (2004:2) defines conversational knowledge creation as when, "individuals create and share knowledge through dialog with questions and answers." Rullani (2005) adopts the notion of Wenger's community of practice (which shapes an individual's world and identity) and combined it with Habermas' communicative interest (which satisfies the immanent need to see and to judge ourselves from outside relative to some agreed-upon criteria) to argue that this interaction also changes a person's world vision and their reflexive identity.

Within this literature actual situated behavior becomes paramount. Orlikowski (2000:407) defines technologies-in-practice as "enacted structures of technology use" that are virtual and emerge from "people's repeated and situated interaction with particular technologies." And just as she refuses to reify interaction with technology, she resists the conception of knowledge as an object. Orlikowski (2002:249) relies upon Brown's and Duguid's distinction between "know-how" and "know-what," Schön's "knowing in action," and Giddens' theory of structuration to argue for a "knowing in practice," a perspective that "suggests that knowing is not a static embedded capability or stable disposition of actors, but rather an ongoing social accomplishment, constituted and reconstituted as actors engage the world in practice."

Finally, a strength of the literature on practice is the notion of reflectivity. (Wikipedia is certainly a community in which the contributors reflect upon their own activities.) For example, Levina (2002:12) notes that Schön's "reflection-in-action" is a "conversation with the material of a situation"; she then extends this to understand diverse professional practices in collaborative environments. Her notion of collective reflection-in-action permits one to describe a 'conversation' between different audiences and identifies collective modes of enactment such as ignoring, adding, and challenging the contributions of others.

2.4 Culture

Among the walls that frame my proposed research, the topic of culture is perhaps the widest ranging and multivalent. Indeed, when authors set about to address the topic they can't help but note the many ways in which it is used. In Schein's (2004 :12) review of the literature he finds 11 conceptual categorization related to culture. Consequently, the apology I offered on behalf of this review is offered anew: my present treatment is a reflection of those concepts I have found compelling in my readings for understanding the phenomena in which I'm interested. When I considered the dozen or so definitions I encountered in my own literature review, I noted a few common features: culture is social, cumulative, often implicit, and helps humans make meaning of life.

Blackburn's (1996) definition touches on the learned (cumulative) and implicit character that is "often too pervasive to be readily noticed from within." Etzioni and Etzioni (1999:241) also note the often implicit character of culture and stress a "measure of commitment to a set of shared values, mores, meetings, and a shared historical identity...." Schein (2004:26) distinguishes the espoused beliefs and values of an organization with the "underlying assumptions: unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings." This understanding of culture is just as relevant to virtual communities. In his consideration of the Internet, Castells' (2001:30) understands culture as "a set of values and beliefs informing behavior." Indeed, "CMC systems are vastly more effective than f2f [face-to-face] systems in maintaining memory and retrieving it for communal purposes, as far as cognitive memories are concerned" (Etzioni and Etzioni 1999:246). One need only consider a Wiki's ability to log all changes (a history of edits) for a demonstration of this!

Bellah et al. (1996:333) defines culture as, "The patterns of meaning that any group or society uses to interpret and evaluate itself and its situation." As I noted in my earlier definition of culture, Schein (2004:32) writes that, "culture as a set of basic assumptions defines for us what to pay attention to, what things mean, how to react emotionally to what is going on, and what actions to take in various kinds of situations." Within structuration theory, Hays (1994:65) writes that, "Systems of meaning are what is often known as culture, including not only the beliefs and values of social groups, but also their language, forms of knowledge, and common sense, as well as the material products, interactional practices, rituals, and ways of life established by these." Bohm (1996:19) notes that, "society is a link of relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture — which implies that we share meaning; i.e., significance, purpose, and value." If this shared meaning, or "thought world or mental map," does not exist "we will not understand what is going on, or, worse, misperceive and misinterpret the actions of others" (2004:32) and society "falls apart" (1996:19).

And, of course, culture is dynamic — though not "infinitely malleable" (Hays 1994:68); it is "persuasive and enacted and created by interaction" (Schein 2004:1). We can think of it as "accumulated shared learning of a group" (p. 16). Or as Triandis (1995:4) puts it "culture is to society what memory is to individuals. It includes things that worked in the past." This is why, if we wish to understand why a community acts the way they do now, understanding the history of events and people that contributed to their culture is critical.

3 Methodology

3.1 Methods

The approach I plan to take is not easily classified according to the traditional methods of archival research and observational ethnography. While much of this is because of my own position and the character of online community, these methodologies are also beginning to interact as they transcend the disciplines from which they originated; it's now possible to find historians of contemporary communities and sociologists conducting historical ethnography —an example of the latter is the pre-conference panel at NCA 2005. Consequently, to come to grips with my approach, I will break down the issue into separate questions of the object of study, sites, time, and researcher.

I am studying the development of collaborative culture on the Wikipedia; consequently, my object of study is the communications and contributions of those that participate in and interpret that cultural development. I will be seeking and citing discourse that had a substantive role in the development of the Wikipedia, or, otherwise, is representative of a salient feature of its development or understanding. To this end ethnography is compelling because of its concern with culture. As van Maanen (1988) writes, "an ethnography is a written representation of a culture "(p. 1) and "[t]he trick of ethnography is to adequately display the culture in a way that is meaningful to readers without great distortion" (p. 13).

My research "sites" are predominantly the archives of "virtual" discourse. First, there are the actual Wikipedia pages and edits to them; this includes the encyclopedic articles (e.g., sociology) as well as the "meta" pages documenting the policies and norms of the Wikipedia itself (e.g., Neutral Point of View). Second, there is the Talk page associated with each article on which conversation about the article occurs (e.g., how to reorganize, suggestions for improvements, polls, etc.). Third, there are external Web sites such as discussion forums, news sites, and blogs. Fourth, there are mailing lists on which more abstract and/or particularly difficult issues are discussed; wikiEN-l and wiki-l often include discussions of the administration and policy of the Wikipedia. Fifth, and finally, there are the physical spaces in which the community members act. Intentional locations include small meet-ups (a few of these have occurred in New York) and at conferences. Furthermore, one is likely to encounter Wikipedia contributors without seeking them out. It is such a popular web site that I find myself in discussions about Wikipedia with random people in everyday circumstances. However, the bulk of my research will be focused upon the first four sites. Interviews will not be a substantive portion of my methodology, though nonpublic conversations are possible. Yet, my focus will be to follow (and even engage) in the practice: "A culture is expressed (or constituted) only by the actions and words of its members and must be interpreted by, not given to, a field worker" (Van Maanen 1988). Consequently, I have developed a number of methods and software for capturing, organizing, and citing documents and discourse within this community. For example, with the help of the MARC e-mail archivists I was able to ensure the unique message-ID of a message cited from an e-mail list has a similarly unique and easily dereferenceable URL. And, I developed a small script to collect and analyze the distribution of contributions (edits) to a Wikipedia page.

With respect to the scale of time in my project, I expect to engage three different periods. The first is the immediate history of the Wikipedia since the founding of its predecessor, Nupedia, in 2000. (The Nupedia mailing lists are no longer available on the Web, however I have been able to recover much of them from the Internet Archive.) The second period includes like-minded digital reference works going back to Project Gutenberg in the 1970s. The most expansive period is that of the reference work in general, reaching back to the ancient Romans.

This research will be informed by two decades of participation in computer mediated communities. While I began studying the Wikipedia specifically in January 2004, and made my first identifiable edit (rather than anonymous) in April of that year, I had made use of Wikis and Wikipedia before that. Because of my long-standing participation in open content communities it is difficult to place myself in a particular methodological school. First, I often come to these communities as a user so I cannot take for granted the distinction between researcher and subject. I tend to consider myself a reflective practitioner that sometimes, also, becomes a researcher interested in the historical development of that community. This also complicates the relationship between theory and data. Since I often engage in practice first, my approach is clearly not deductive (i.e., posing a theory prior to exposure to the community). However, it is not purely inductive either (i.e., allowing my own concepts and theories to develop solely from experience) as I have already encountered many theories as part of my reflective practice. Yet, there is a goal that I aspire to, my research "should be empirical enough to be credible and analytical enough to be interesting" (van Maanen1988:29). I hope to make a convincing contribution (Golden-Biddle and Locke 1993) by providing an account that has authenticity, "the ability of the text to convey the vitality of everyday life encountered by the researcher in the field setting" (p. 599), plausibility, "the ability of the text to connect two worlds [of the writer and reader] that are put in play in the reading of the written account" (p. 600), and criticality, "the ability of the text to actively probe readers to reconsider there taken-for-granted ideas and beliefs" (p. 600).

In the end, perhaps the most important difference between archival and ethnographic work is not so much the object of study, or their originating disciplines, but the implications of interaction. I do contribute to the Wikipedia — though only at the "WikiGnome" level — for the purpose of my own understanding (an ethnographic virtue) and out of gratitude (a moral virtue). I have also volunteered to review submissions to the Wikimania 2006 conference. While I am approaching my project with the historical intention of understanding a particular event in time, ethnographic considerations of the relationship between subject and researcher are relevant.

3.2 Ethics

3.2.1 Public archives

As noted, my approach is predominately archival, focusing on the public actions and discourse of people as recorded in various Wikipedia pages, blogs, and e-mail lists. Literature on the ethics of online community research (Reid 1996; Siang 1999; Eysenbach and Till 2001; Bruckman 2002; Elgesem 2002; Kleinman 2002; Walther 2002; Stern 2003; Flicker, Haans and Skinner 2004) addresses the differences and similarities with off-line communities, such as ways of thinking about on-line participants, the boundaries of the public and private, and the researcher's responsibilities of accurately representing their work and protecting subjects.

After reviewing this literature I thought I might approach these issues by responding to "questions to ask when undertaking Internet research" compiled by the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Ess et al. 2002). Venue and expectations

I will be analyzing Wikipedia pages including encyclopedic articles, discussion pages, and user pages. All such pages are governed by the Wikipedia privacy policy which states:

If you contribute to the Wikimedia projects, you are publishing every word you post publicly. If you write something, assume that it will be retained forever. This includes articles, user pages and talk pages.… When you edit any page in the wiki, you are publishing a document. This is a public act, and you are identified publicly with that edit as its author. … If you are logged in, you will be identified by your user name. This may be your real name if you so choose, or you may choose to publish under a pseudonym, whatever user name you selected when you created your account. (Foundation 2006)

A complementary venue is the Wikipedia mailing lists which are publicly archived as noted in the policy:

If you subscribe to one of the project mailing lists, your address will be exposed to any other subscriber. The list archives of most of Wikimedia's mailing lists are public, and your address may find itself quoted in messages. The list archives are also archived by Gmane services. (Foundation 2006)

Additionally, I will be relying upon new stories and commentary appearing in news articles and blogs. These publications are published and part of the public record.

Furthermore, any participant actively involved in the Wikipedia would also be aware that the Wikipedia is the subject of an intense interest by the media and researchers. Wikipedia has been the subject of significant media coverage and has a community of scholars who work on and within it, and, for example, discuss their work at the WikiMania conferences, the first of which was in 2005. Participants and content

My sources are those figures relevant to understanding Wikipedia development. The historical span is significant including the Roman admiral Pliny the Elder, up through living historical figures of note such as Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales (cofounders of Wikipedia) and other digital encyclopedic figures (e.g., those associated with Project Gutenberg, Interpedia, Distributed Encyclopedia, and GNUpedia). Additionally, prominent Wikipedian's who served on the Board of Trustees, Arbitration and Mediation Boards, and other leadership positions are likely to be of interest.

Otherwise, there are tens of thousands of editors to the english-language Wikipedia. Of the most active, there are approximately 13,000 editors with 5+ edits a month and 3,000 editors with 100+ edits a month. I will focus on those who have made significant contributions to Wikipedia's development or who are otherwise representative of a salient feature of that development. Such sources voluntarily choose to participate under an identity of their choice in the expectation that they are authors contributing to a public work. This population is not any more vulnerable than the population at large; any participants from vulnerable populations might not necessarily be identified as such.

Participants in the English-language Wikipedia are predominantly from English-speaking countries that are, of course, governed by different laws. However, I presently do not foresee likely legal problems associated with quoting public authors. The subject matter of contributions and communications is that of what would be found in any encyclopedia, or in conversations about what is appropriate for an encyclopedia.

Consequently, the approach I plan to take with respect to the identity of sources' publicly archived contributions and communications is to:

  1. quote and paraphrase sources as authors, listing them in a bibliography;
  2. use the sources' own chosen identity, or having failed to login, the IP address Wikipedia publicly associates with an edit;
  3. not to investigate the sources' identity beyond that which is revealed in public contributions and communications. For example a Wikipedia user page and it's relevant links are appropriate material; an attempt to discern or link additional personal information is not;
  4. to treat all claims of identity with skepticism. For example, I will indicate that an identity has been thought to be stolen or a "sock puppet" (i.e., one person holding more than one identity) if such a concern has been raised and relevant to my discussion.

It is important to note that while it is possible that an at risk person could post sensitive content — as an extreme example, a juvenile journalist exposing corruption under a tyrannical regime — such an event is unlikely at the Wikipedia (which has a "no new research policy"), is not relevant to my research question (the historical development of the Wikipedia and its collaborative culture), and my policy above could only have the same or less information than sources which are otherwise publicly available.

In the unlikely case that my usage of public material could conceivably add to the harm of the sensitive source and I, doubtfully, deem it necessary to my dissertation, I would adopt the policy of the following section. Nonpublic contributions and communications

It is possible that in the course of my study and participation in the Wikipedia community I will encounter circumstances in which I will be privy to nonpublic information. An anticipated case is the correspondence between myself and historical figures. For example, speaking to Jimmy Wales or Richard Stallman about the confusion around the 2001 GNUPedia project announcement given the existing Nupedia project. Or, perhaps I'll have an interesting conversation with someone at the Wikipedia conference that I wish to use in the dissertation.

Consequently, citations of such nonpublic communications will be governed by the following policy:

  1. I will identify myself as a researcher of the Wikipedia, on my Wikipedia user page and during any such communication;
  2. I will provide the source with the opportunity to: (1) not have the communication appear in my work, (2) to appear with a masked attribution, (3) to appear with an identity corresponding to a real name or Wikipedia identity.
  3. Additionally, the source will have the opportunity to permit the whole of the communication to be published as "oral history" in a publicly accessible archive.

The appendix includes the consent form I will use in these circumstances.

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5 Appendix: Nonpublic communication consent form


6 Appendix: Screen Shots

In this appendix I include five screenshots of the essential Wikipedia experience. Many of these functions (discussion, edit this page, history, watch, etc.) are accessed as a tab at the top of an article.

The watchlist is a special page, like a collection of Wikipedia bookmarks, that permits a user to keep track of the edits to the articles he or she is concerned with. From the watchlist one can easily view the history, which shows the sequence of edits to a given article. For any two edits within the history of an article, the diff shows what contributors changed, added, or subtracted from the article. In the edit this page example one can see the Wiki syntax used to actually write the content for a page. The discussion or talk page permits contributors to discuss their edits to the article.

However, screenshots are a poor substitute for the interactivity of the Wikipedia. One does not need an account or any special abilities to see most of this functionality for one's self.

6.1 My Watchlist

Each users' watchlist contains a list of edits to a page that she is watching. One can easily click on and see what the edit was, the history of that article, the article, who made the edit, and the article's discussion (Talk) page.


6.2 History

The history of edits to a page includes the ability to compare the differences between any two revisions, the most current revision, or its predecessor ("last"); and shows whether the edit is considered minor ("m"), and a brief comment on the edit.


6.3 Differences

The diff page displays the results of Me677's edit: an addition to line 69 to document when the English Wikipedia passed the 800,000 article mark.


6.4 Edit

Within a form field on the web page, one can actually edit and author the article text using the Wiki syntax.


6.5 Talk or Discussion

On this page contributors are encouraged to talk about their concerns, questions, or proposals for editing the actual article.