Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2010 Sep 20 | Announcing: Good Faith Collaboration

My book Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (2010, The MIT Press) is now available. While I have long anticipated its publication, it's hard to believe the day is finally here! Please do check out the book's website, which includes the foreword, preface, introduction, notes and bibliography. I'll also collect links to interviews and reviews there. Also, feel free to leave any comments on it below.

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

Wikipedia's style of collaborative production has been lauded, lambasted, and satirized. Despite unease over its implications for the character (and quality) of knowledge, Wikipedia has brought us closer than ever to a realization of the century-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia is a rich ethnographic portrayal of Wikipedia's historical roots, collaborative culture, and much debated legacy.

Read more at http://reagle.org/joseph/2010/gfc/.

Posted by Sage Ross at Mon Sep 20 10:08:23 2010
Congrats!  My copy from Amazon actually came about two weeks ago, but I'm glad it's officially out now.

It's next on my to-read list.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 20 10:17:26 2010
Thank you Sage.

Posted by Mayo Fuster Morell at Wed Sep 22 12:09:35 2010
Dear Joseph!

Congratulations for the book!

Your articles were of great help to build upon for my dissertation on Governance of online creation communities (which I defended yesterday!); now I look forward to read your book!!!. You not only had done a great work, but also had been an important reference for the formation of a research community on Wikipedia.

Well done! Thank you, Mayo

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Wed Sep 22 13:26:05 2010
Hi Mayo, nice to hear from you! Thank you for the kind words and congratulations on your defense!

Posted by Gregory Kohs at Sat Sep 25 22:06:54 2010
I read some of the freely-available first chapter, and I immediately recognized that most of its message did not conform at all with my interpretation of the culture that pervades Wikipedia and its management organization.  I would not buy this book, but I would read the rest of it if someone gave it to me for free.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at Sun Sep 26 12:45:32 2010
Note, folks, you should be able to get the book from one of the older, non-exploitative, institutions of free culture - the public library.

Joe, after going through chapter 1, sadly my initial impression was also negative. Obviously you put a lot of work into this, and while I can respect the effort to do scholarship, the perspective seems problematic.

Basically, it struck me as extremely credulous, and regurgitating the most self-promotional presentations as profound truth.

Here's a simple question - Is there anywhere in the book where you write something along the lines of "The Wikipedia community tells itself a nice story here, but it's a fiction which covers up the following cultural dysfunction."?

Can you provide a quick counter-example to argue against the view that this is functionally a verbose marketing brochure for Wikipedia?

Posted by radek at Sun Sep 26 16:40:43 2010
I've been a part of many communities, both online and off, and it's no exaggeration for me to say that Wikipedia is the most mismanaged, dysfunctional and vicious of these.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 09:18:37 2010
Goodness! The wave of negative comments surely means that the folks at Wikipedia Review have taken notice, and checking the threads, indeed this is the case.

For those not familiar, Wikipedia Review is a forum dedicated to scrutinizing and reporting upon the flaws of Wikipedia. Decent content and commentary can sometimes be found there, but there are also a significant amount of gossip, personal attacks, and vitriol.

Since I see some of the, self-described, "nastier" comments have already been archived there and then claimed to have been censored before I even noticed them, I've gone ahead and removed them. I intend the comments feature on this blog to be a place for civil and informed discussion.

This of course raises the question of content discrimination, where to draw the line, etc. I will try to remain as open as possible, but can make no guarantees to make everyone happy or not close things for a bit and take a wiki-holiday.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 09:40:59 2010
@Gregory: Wikipedia is a massive phenomenon, and people can have varied experiences. I have no doubt that many people (in absolute terms) have been angered, disappointed, and treated unfairly. The question then is that the majority of interactions? Relatively speaking, this has not been my sense of things in watching Wikipedia. So, here, then is a question of balance. Also, my focus is on Wikipedia's culture, so despite particular faults and failings, WP's culture at least attempts to encourage pro-social behavior, rather than anti-social behavior.

@Seth: You might be disappointed in the balance, but there are references to critics and failings. In fact, the last substantive chapter (7) is all about criticism of Wikipedia.

@radek: I think it would be interesting to see some contributions with respect to how the culture of Wikipedia fails, and how those failings are prevented in other communities.

Posted by Gregory Kohs at Mon Sep 27 10:18:25 2010
Dr. Reagle, if you examine a culture that systematically and formally renounces and exiles any thoughtful critic of said culture, much in the way you have censored a perfectly innocuous comment left here by scholar Jon Awbrey along with a highly cogent assessment by Kelly Martin (herself with over 17,000 edits to Wikipedia), I suspect you will have a personal "sense of things" that the majority of interactions are pro-social, rich, collaborative etc.

You're only looking at the behaviors and comments of those left behind after the pogroms.  And I would agree with Kelly Martin, that that (along with your purge of comments here) is willful misrepresentation and bankrupt scholarship.

I will look for your book in my county library, in order to read Chapter 7.  Or, you could send me a copy of that chapter for review.  I am willing to remain open-minded about your ability to observe and address criticisms of Wikipedia's "collaborative" culture; but thus far, you're not demonstrating much good faith yourself.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 10:43:23 2010
@Gregory: I encourage you to pick it up at the library! As I note in the preface, I wrote most of it in a public library in Brooklyn :-) . However, I suspect you may not find it satisfying. I can tell you now that while I did endeavor to reference significant and substantive criticism on the themes I engage (e.g., from Sanger, Carr, Gorman, Lanier, Keen, Helprin, Orlowski, etc. on themes of collaborative practice, universal vision, encyclopedic impulse, and technological inspiration) I do conclude Wikipedia to be a remarkable phenomenon as the latest (and most successful, despite faults) project in the long pursuit of a universal encyclopedia.

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 10:50:02 2010
@Joseph.  I am intrigued that you removed my comments.  I don't know why you regard them as civil and uninformed.  On the question of balance,

(a) does it not occur to you that the existence of a forum (the Wikipedia Review) dedicated to scrutinising and reporting on the failures of Wikipedia is itself an indication of serious flaws in the project?

(b) you haven't answered Seth's question: is there anywhere in the book where you write something along the lines of "The Wikipedia community tells itself a nice story here, but it's a fiction which covers up the following cultural dysfunction."? Is that what you say in chapter 7?

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 11:03:44 2010
Is chapter 7 essentially 'encyclopedic anxiety? You have a presentation here.

http://reagle.org/joseph/Talks/2008/0207-ch7-enc-anxiety.html

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 11:29:54 2010
@ Peter, yes, ch7 is entitled encyclopedic anxiety. In the book I note how openness, consensus, and egalitarianism, for example, are claimed by Wikipedians but are much more difficult and complex issues.

With respect to admin power, I write: "In Wikipedia culture, and in keeping with the larger wiki culture, delineations of authority are suspect, as is seen in the previous excerpt regarding the role of administrators. Yet, even if these other levels of authority entail responsibilities rather than rights -- which is the orthodox line -- they could nonetheless be seen as something to achieve or envy if only for symbolic status."

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 11:37:58 2010
Joseph, you haven't explained why you removed my previous comments.

Moving on, you say "Wikipedia is a massive phenomenon, and people can have varied experiences. I have no doubt that many people (in absolute terms) have been angered, disappointed, and treated unfairly. The question then is that the majority of interactions? Relatively speaking, this has not been my sense of things in watching Wikipedia. So, here, then is a question of balance. Also, my focus is on Wikipedia's culture, so despite particular faults and failings, WP's culture at least attempts to encourage pro-social behavior, rather than anti-social behavior."

I am wondering how your argument would deal with the case of a country with a repressive regime.  E.g. Russia in the 1920's and 30's.  Or China in the 1960's.  You arguments are as follows:

(1) "It's a massive phenomenon and people can have varied experiences." The same was true Cambodia in the 1970's and many had "varied experiences" of that. 

(2) On 'the majority of interactions' I'm not sure of what you mean here.  In any repressive regime the number of dissidents is pretty small, let's say a significant minority.  Did you make any attempt in your book to interview any of these and make an objective assessment of their experiences?

(3) You say this was not your "experience of things".  Did you adopt any specific research methodology to avoid 'selection bias' and all the well-known problems of social or historical commentary? 

(4) You say your focus is on Wikipedia's culture.  Of course, but the critics are claiming that this is the fundamental problem.

(5) You say that Wikipedia "attempts to encourage pro-social behavior, rather than anti-social behavior".  But that is also true of any repressive regime.  The question is how to come to an objective assessment of whether this attempt has succeeded (in the cultural sense) or not. Most of those who have lived through the purges and the blockings and bannings would say not.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 11:54:08 2010
Peter, I suggest reading the book. I know that I will not likely satisfy any "Wikipedia Review" contributor, and that many of you are as inexhaustible in the enthusiasm of your passion (Wikipedia criticism) as some Wikipedians are in theirs! However, if you read the book, and have a substantive critique with respect to any of the arguments I make, I suggest publishing then. For example, one might challenge the following arguments and theories in an informed way:

1. The historical argument that Wikipedia belongs in a longer historical pursuit of universal encyclopedic vision.
2. The model of what can be called a good-faith collaborative culture and its applicability to Wikipedia.
3. The model of open content community, and some of the most important issues associated with the challenges related to it.
4. The specific challenges associated with consensus decision-making in such a community.
5. The model of authorial leadership provided.
6. The historical argument that criticism of Wikipedia and is also related to criticism of earlier reference works.
7. The review of significant published criticisms of Wikipedia (relevant to themes within the book).

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 12:04:16 2010
I don't think comparing Wikipedia with a repressive political regime is a good analogy. One is a state actor with an ability to significantly harm the rights or safety of people. (Yes, Wikipedia has issues with questions of defamation, which I am not denying, but speaking of purges and pogroms seems hyperbolic.)

However, when it comes to this question of balance, historical arguments are always personal arguments. I think a scholar has an obligation to address, or at least identify, significant counter-arguments, which I do. However, I make no claim of perfect objectivity. With respect to ethnography, one of the important papers for me are Golden-Biddle and Locke's (1993) "Appealing work: An investigation of how ethnographic texts convince" where by one strives to exhibit authenticity, plausibility and criticality. I attempted to engage those strategies, so, of course, some might find my efforts lacking. And, of course, they are free to pursue their own research and publish their own results.

Unfortunately, I expect this is all the time I have for this discussion at the moment.

Posted by The Fieryangel at Mon Sep 27 12:07:25 2010
Dr. Reagle,

Might I point out that you have not answer a single one of the questions asked by Peter Damian, by Seth Finkelstein and by Gregory Kohs.  Since civility seems to be an important part of this interaction (in much the same way it is made to seem that way on Wikipedia itself), might I ask you politely to try to respond to some of these concerns, rather than not responding at all and stopping discussion by censoring comments?

...although this is certainly much the same way that "civility" is enforced on Wikipedia itself...

Posted by Kelly Martin at Mon Sep 27 12:10:52 2010
I will agree with you that Wikipedia is a remarkable phenomenon.  That appears to be the extent to which agreement is possible, however.

I will also agree with you that most people's interaction with Wikipedia will not be strongly colored by the deeply dysfunctional culture there, simply because most people's interactions with Wikipedia are those of the reader and the casual editor, neither of which experiences the full pleasure of Wikipedia's internal strife that closely or directly.

Indeed, the impact to readers is mainly limited to being presented with articles that are poorly written or edited, or occasionally by finding no article at all, because the editor who might otherwise have written a better article has been discouraged from editing by contact with this internal strife, and of course the reader will be unaware of this and will simply leave with either an ill feeling of being less informed than he or she might like, or even possibly ignorantly misinformed because the article he or she did read was the victim of one of the many Wikipedia editors who have learned to play Wikipedia's cultural system in order to insert and defend their personal biases into articles.

The impact to most casual editors is likewise limited: if one's editing is limited to an area of personal predilection and that area is not itself one in which there is much controversy, then one might edit for months, even years, without running into one of Wikipedia's power brokers.  I imagine this tells the tale for most Wikipedians, and their experience quite likely resembles the gloriously pretty picture you have persistently tried to paint in your writings. 

It is only when one tries to edit a "controversial" topic, such as (to pick one at random) "hummus", that one finds oneself thrown into the Wikipedian equivalent of a snake pit.  Such articles are, in practice, controlled by relatively small groups of people, who make sure that their personal views on the topic at hand are preserved.  They do this by careful social and political manipulation within Wikipedia's environment (and fairly rarely by appeals to reason or logic) to marginalize and exclude any editor who attempts to alter the article in a way they disapprove. 

It has been frequently noted that a significant fraction of those Wikipedians who have been banned (other than those who are banned for repeated petty vandalism) are banned for persistently expressing viewpoints inconsistent with those preferred by those who hold power within Wikipedia's community.  This is, of course, inconsistent with your treatise, just as it is inconsistent with Wikipedia's formally-stated policy.  But it is the considered experience of those who watch Wikipedia from the outside that Wikipedia policy is observed mainly in the breach, and that the actual goings on at Wikipedia are not even remotely fairly consistent with its formal policy.  Indeed, Wikipedia's "collaborative" system deals with ideological conflict by picking a victor by a sociopolitical process driven mainly by personalities, and then demonizing and excluding all those who champion inconsistent positions.  Once the dust clears and only the victor is left standing, all is happiness and light (except for those pushed out into the darkness), and the facade that you have so carefully described in your book is maintained.

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 12:26:13 2010
>>However, when it comes to this question of balance, historical arguments are always personal arguments.

All arguments are personal arguments, i.e. argued by people.  The question is to what sense they are compelling, cogent, evidenced, analytical etc.  The problem I see with your work (and I have read considerably more than just the first chapter of your book) is that you give very few actual arguments.  You merely cite other authors (profusely so) without any attempt at analysis and assessment of what they say.  I could give you examples if you wish.

>>I think a scholar has an obligation to address, or at least identify, significant counter-arguments, which I do.

Where?  I don't see you addressing any of the main arguments concerning the dysfunctionality of Wikipedia in any of the work that I have read.  I commented http://reagle.org/joseph/blog/social/wikipedia/nrhm-be-nice?showcomments=yes#comment_social_wikipedia_nrhm_be_nice1282035257.63 in an earlier post of yours here that while you mention Sanger by name you provide no discussion or analysis of any of Sanger's very cogent and coherent analysis of Wikipedia.  Sanger is one of Wikipedia's most prominent and insightful critics.  I find it astonishing you do not engage with any of what he says.  Or if you do, where?  Citation please :)

>>However, I make no claim of perfect objectivity.

There is no objectivity at all. Vacuous citations of other authors, many of whose work is almost as vacuous as your own, is not a substitute for compelling, cogent and insightful analysis.

>>With respect to ethnography, one of the important papers for me are Golden-Biddle and Locke's (1993) "Appealing work: An investigation of how ethnographic texts convince" where by one strives to exhibit authenticity, plausibility and criticality.

There you go again.  You cite some authority without explaining their views or arguments, without putting them in context and without any attempt at analysis. This is futile.

>> I attempted to engage those strategies, so, of course, some might find my efforts lacking.
Why? Explain how this sentence follows in any way from the one which proceeded it.

And as TFA has just pointed out, you have failed (or have refused) to respond to any of the questions posed to you above.

Posted by Kelly Martin at Mon Sep 27 12:47:00 2010
If I may add to my last comment, I would point out two additional points:

First, the intersection of the set of "important" encyclopedic topics and the set of "controversial" topics on Wikipedia, is substantial.  That is to say, given any topic that a reasonable person would identify as "important", there is a good chance that topic is "controversial" within Wikipedia, and therefore there is either (a) an ongoing pitched battle to control that article's content or (b) an clique of like-minded editors who have successfully established control of the article and who are actively using Wikipedia's internal processes to maintain that control. 

There are, of course, many topics that are not important that are, nonetheless, controversial; I mentioned "hummus" in my last comment as an example.  "Hummus" is controversial because there is an ongoing dispute on Wikipedia as to whether hummus originated in Palestine or Israel.  Although Wikipedia policy demands that this dispute be "bracketed", the participants in this debate are not interested in agreeing to do so, and the article will never reflect such bracketing, at least not for long.  While, of course, at any time the article might reflect any of a number of positions on this dispute as various editors make changes to it, the long-term average tends to favor one particular position, because the editors support that point of view are both more numerous and more skillful at manipulating the community.  This doesn't mean that this point of view is the factually correct one, in any positive sense of the word, or that their preferred point of view is "neutral" (whatever that means).  All it means is simply that the advocates for this "majority" view are more persistent and more clever than their ideological counterparts, within Wikipedia's pocket universe.

Unfortunately, the realizations above constitute gross heresy within the Wikipedia universe, and anyone who expresses them will be quickly marginalized within the Wikipedia community for it.  Wikipedia has a very low tolerance for those who reject the "mad belief" that Wikipedia's format of massive collaboration necessarily leads to truth, happiness, and light, even when its own servers are littered with the corpses of editors and articles that every day disprove the very thesis that your book sets forth as gospel truth.

In 2007 I said that "open editing is a great way to start an encyclopedia, but it may not be a good way to finish one".  I stand by that.  Wikipedia's cultural environment has always lacked the defenses it would need to defend itself against those who would seek to manipulate it, and indeed at this point it has been entirely subverted by such persons.  Put shortly, crowdsourcing doesn't work.  Sorry.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 12:58:04 2010
@Kelly, I agree that in online discourse, very often the loudest and those with the most free time can appear to win. While I would not have thought hummus to be a difficult issue, as I write in the book about a different issue: "As is often the case on difficult issues, the conclusion to this argument was facilitated as much by exhaustion as by reason."

Posted by Kelly Martin at Mon Sep 27 13:19:39 2010
Joseph, my point is that every article on Wikipedia has the potential to turn into another hummus.  All it takes is one group of people who refuse to collaborate and who have figured out how to play Wikipedia's game of "fake civility" and social manipulation.  This has happened to countless articles, and will happen to ever more articles, with little hope of reclamation short of the death or disability of the ringleaders involved. 

Virtually all arguments on Wikipedia are resolved by exhaustion.  I have spoken to many many former Wikipedia editors who left because they ran into a determined and intemperate editor and elected to quit instead of fight, and in fact this appears to be one of the most common reasons why people stop editing Wikipedia.  Often enough, the determined and intemperate editor was an administrator or other well-connected individual.  Such editors are actively interfering with the collaborative process you wax so eloquently about, and yet their conduct is not the exception in Wikipedia, it is the norm and is protected, even encouraged, as such, in practice, even as it is discouraged in policy.

For every example of two editors resolving a disagreement amiably and reaching a collaborative consensus I imagine you can find dozens, even hundreds, of examples of one editor cowing another into either abandoning the dispute or escalating the dispute into a disagreement that ends in forcible ejection for one or both parties.  Wikipedians crow much about consensus but are indeed quite bad at practicing it.  Note that the case of one editor abandoning the dispute often leaves little discernable trail; an examination of the record by someone predisposed to find proof of operating consensus process will likely interpret such encounters as "successes".

I think you make the mistake of assuming that "difficult issues" are rare and infrequent, when in reality they represent the majority of conflict in Wikipedia.  The reason there appears to be relatively little conflict is that so many articles are edited by only one editor, on topics that nobody else cares enough about to get into a conflict about, or else are being edited by people who are merely editing for the sake of editing, and are not invested enough in the topic to get into a conflict over them (and indeed may not even care). 

The simple truth is that Wikipedia does not handle conflict well at all, which was, of course, entirely predictable based on our 40 years of experience of watching conflict on USENET, a forum which shares a number of sociological similarities to Wikipedia.  However, nobody has expectations that a newsgroup posting or a comment on an Internet bulletin board will be "factual"; an encyclopedia, on the other hand, carries with it other expectations (a topic I think you do touch on, although I think you do so for different reasons).  And there's no way to set up a killfile for Wikipedia contributors the way there is on USENET.

Posted by Lilburne at Mon Sep 27 14:31:02 2010
An example of pettiness of the 'connected' admins  making up rules in such a way that is ultimately detrimental to the project.
<a href="http://toolserver.org/~luxo/contributions/contributions.php?user=Nastytroll&blocks=true">http://toolserver.org/~luxo/contributions/contributions.php?user=Nastytroll&blocks=true</a>

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 14:59:43 2010
Kelly's comments are spot-on, and well-informed (she is ex-member of arbitration committee).  The problem is that controlling a page and defeating an opponent by exhaustion is the norm, not the exception (as Kelly correctly says).

Joseph, doesn't it disturb you that important issues, matters of fact, are being controlled in this way?  I could give you scores of examples.

Posted by Kelly Martin at Mon Sep 27 15:30:55 2010
Peter, I wouldn't say it's the norm; most Wikipedia topic are either entirely unowned or owned by default because either nobody or only one person cares about them.  However, it is certainly the norm in situations that involve any sort of conflict.

As an aside, it is difficult to do research on how many pages are "unowned" because Wikipedia's administration considers the information about how many watchers a page has to be highly sensitive information.  At least one admin has been defrocked of that role for revealing such information.  Another example of how the culture that actually exists in Wikipedia doesn't measure up with that which Joseph describes in his book.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 15:40:06 2010
I do know who Kelly is, I very much appreciated speaking with her, and in emails after wards, in 2006. In fact, I reference one of her critiques in the book as an example of informed WP criticism.

I also think it unfortunate when exhaustion prevails over good faith discussion, as I note in my book. The question then, is on the whole, what is more characteristics of WP? In something as large as WP, it in part depends on where one is looking, one's own biases, what one's metrics and expectations are, etc. When I describe the debate over Wikipedia I liken this a bit to a glass half/empty half full. Whichever glass I am looking at in the massive collections of behaviors and interactions that happen on WP (and I think I've seen a decent bit), I am none-the-less impressed by the fact that there is at least a glass half-full of good faith collaboration (or, perhaps, of cool-aid as Reviewers put it :-) ).

To look at this more quantitatively, I'd love to see the sort of content analysis that Burke and Kraut (2008) use in "Mind your Ps and Qs: The impact of politeness and rudeness in online communities" applied to WP, though it would certainly be challenging methodologically. (They harvested 576 messages posted to 12 discussion groups (2004-2006) to build a model of linguistic politeness.)

Posted by Peter Damian at Mon Sep 27 16:06:31 2010
>> I also think it unfortunate when exhaustion prevails over good faith discussion, as I note in my book. The question then, is on the whole, what is more characteristics of WP?

The characteristic of WP is that, as Kelly says, is that the intersection of the set of "important" encyclopedic topics and the set of "controversial" topics on Wikipedia, is substantial.  Thus anything important - the Irish troubles, the Israel-Palestine conflict, global warming, pedophilia, even Ayn Rand vs Aristotle (my subject area), is a matter of playground politics and warring. No reasonable person would put up with this, which is why most decent editors have left, as Kelly rightly says.

>>I'd love to see the sort of content analysis that Burke and Kraut (2008) use in "Mind your Ps and Qs: The impact of politeness and rudeness in online communities

There you go again.  Another citation, unexplained, out of context, no pretence at analysis. You need to stop this.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Sep 27 16:43:06 2010
And I don't think I'm obliged to have to do what you tell me, particularly on my own blog. If there is a concern about quantitative attempts to characterize Wikipedian interaction, one naturally looks to the literature. That's the closest work to your concern and where one might start working from if you really wanted to take up that issue.

I'm quite keen on discussion and scholarship that helps us understand Wikipedia; historical arguments that place it in context; sociological investigations that lead to or apply models/theory of community, decision making, and leadership; etc.

But I have not set as my goal to participate in endless bickering or convincing those that "vomit" (as your thread has it) at the mere thought that Wikipedia has interesting prosocial cultural norms. I never expected to change any Reviewers minds on this, and I'd rather spend my time and efforts elsewhere.

Posted by Kelly Martin at Mon Sep 27 17:38:05 2010
My take on your thesis, Joseph, is that you're confusing the denotative norms that people pretend to follow on Wikipedia with the actual ones that are being followed.  While many people, especially those on the periphery of Wikipedia's core community, ascribe to a greater or lesser degree to the norms as you describe them, once you get into the committed core of Wikipedia they are observed mainly in the breach.

You are, of course, to be blindly optimistic in your observations of Wikipedia and pretend that such things are not taking place, but doing so is not really what one would call a scientifically objective viewpoint.  Of course, an additional problem for someone like you, whose participation in Wikipedia is superficial, is that you have little or no access to the nonpublic fora in which the real business of governing Wikipedia takes place.  The face you see, as a casual observer, is quite often the result of careful scripting on at least some of the parties in any interaction.

I suspect that most of the "good faith" collaboration on Wikipedia takes place between people who were predisposed to be collaborative in the first place: people who share common interests and common viewpoints, and thus who have no reason to be at significant cross purposes.  However, my experience, in five years of observing Wikipedia, is that this is a rare thing indeed when the topic is one of significant import, and even more so of when it's of significant disagreement.

An example where this has worked well in Wikipedia is the military history project.  For older battles in wars in decades gone by, there is not a great deal of dissent; when the literature is confused or unclear or in disagreement, the editors in question are typically satisfied to dispassionately say so, simply because there's no emotional involvement for any of them on whether it was 1500 or 1750 troops that died in some obscure battle in the middle of the 17th century.  But that breaks down when the emotions do run long, as is evidenced by the choppy editing and frequent disputes over topics like the planned Allied invasion of Japan, and various events surrounding the end of World War II generally.

So, yes, if you pick and choose your topics carefully, avoiding those on which people have feelings, you will find plenty of evidence for "collaboration".  However, the more interesting topic to discuss is examining why people agree to collaborate when they do, and why they decline to do so when they don't.  Your book suffers (again, from my reading of the first chapter alone, that being all I have seen) for having given the impression that such collaboration is the norm when it, quite frankly, is not, at least if you weight the average by topical importance.  I think you'll find, if you dig into it, that Wikipedia's publish corpus of "social norms" have very little impact on the decision of individual editors to collaborate in good faith; rather, the ones who do so brought that value to the table with them, and the ones that don't did not.

Posted by Barry Kort at Mon Sep 27 19:56:51 2010
@Seth "The Wikipedia community tells itself a nice story, but it's a fiction which covers up a systemic cultural dysfunction."

Self-delusion has plagued humankind since the dawn of civilization, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of scientists, academics, historians, psychologists, sociologists, and journalists to get the story straight.

While the systemic cultural dysfunction, tragic misconceptions, and self-delusions of WikiCulture are manifestly apparent, it's not clear to me that the Wikisphere is any more misguided than the rest of human culture, worldwide, then or now.

@Greg "You're only looking at the behaviors and comments of those left behind after the pogroms."

Greg has a point.  The Pogrom Managers have indeed been busy of late, but Stoned Palls do not a Prison make.

@Joseph "Wikipedia Review is a forum dedicated to scrutinizing and reporting upon the flaws of Wikipedia. Decent content and commentary can sometimes be found there, but there are also a significant amount of gossip, personal attacks, and vitriol."

The site is indeed notable for hosting the Olympiad of Trash Talking of Wretched Excess, but it's nothing that can't be remedied with Moar Song Parodies.

Posted by Jason Treit at Tue Sep 28 03:19:58 2010
Virtually all arguments in human history are resolved by exhaustion. This one's next.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Tue Sep 28 08:12:24 2010
Kelly's argument that most of the work of real importance done at WP is through battle, rather than collaboration, much of which is orchestrated in secret, is a plausible argument. One that is no doubt true in (at least?) some circumstances. However, it is not the one I found to be most prevalent or characteristic of WP.

And, I think Jason is quite right, it's time for me to put this thread to rest here at least. Though people are of course free to maintain their own opinions and discussion elsewhere.

Posted by Barry Kort at Tue Sep 28 10:56:04 2010
Whether the kerfuffles, brouhahas, breaching experiments, and battles will dissipate in a tiresome and banal war of attrition, only time will tell.

But part of the problem with political battles is that the dominant players tend to bury, redact, and otherwise balete their rivals, making the historian's job that much more challenging.

Joseph, I hope you will spend some time in a future project exploring the machinations of backstage politics in which the dominant power players cut off the air supply and otherwise extinguish the voices, the arguments, and the publications of their rivals.


Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle


reagle.org