Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2008 Mar 28 | Dissertation: In Good Faith

Something I learned at the W3C was that a document was never done, there are only milestones and the question of whether you have moved on. For example, the XML security specifications received more "peer review" than any other thing I'm ever likely to work on. It surprised me, and felt great, when people from other countries who I never spoke with would send in an interop report based on the specification and test suite. Even so, the specifications continued to receive errata two years after they were published as Recommendations. I still receive questions about them, but I've given that work little thought in well over five years, so I've "moved on" and can answer only the most trivial questions.

I'm about to submit the final copy of my dissertation, successfully defended on March 5, which is a big milestone. And I still do think about it, and the improvements I could make. In fact, I am caught between my desire to make it freely available and a desire (a necessity even, in the academic context) to see it published as a book. So, for the present I am making the first chapter and bibliography publicly available and hope to do more after discussions with publishers. However, I would like to share it with interested colleagues and sources (see acknowledgments and references): I expect more correction, criticism and commentary -- public even, here or elsewhere -- will provide further value to any book that might result.


Reagle, J. (2008).In good faith: Wikipedia collaboration and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia. PhD thesis, New York University, New York, NY. [ ]

   author = {Joseph Reagle},
   title = {In good faith: {Wikipedia} collaboration
        and the pursuit of the universal encyclopedia},
   year = {2008},
   address = {New York, NY},
   url = {},
   month = {May}, 
school = {New York University}, }

Wikipedia, "the free encyclopedia anyone can edit," has caught the attention of the world. Discourse about the efficacy and legitimacy of this collaborative work abound, from the news pages of "The New York Times" to the satire of "The Onion." So how might we understand Wikipedia collaboration? In part 1 I argue that Wikipedia is an heir to a twentieth century vision of universal access and goodwill; an idea advocated by H. G. Wells and Paul Otlet almost a century ago. This vision is inspired by technological innovation -- microfilm and index cards then, digital networks today -- and driven by the encyclopedic compulsion to capture and index everything known. In addition, I place Wikipedia within the history of reference works, focusing on their (often fervent) creators, and the cooperation, competition, and plagiarism encountered in their production. In part 2, I conceptualize Wikipedia as a technologically mediated "open" community; through ethnography I identify the norms, practices and meanings of Wikipedia culture including "Neutral Point of View," good faith, and authorial leadership. In particular, I use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to explain the operation of Wikipedia's collaborative culture: "Neutral Point of View" ensures that the scattered pieces of what we think we know can be joined and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together. Finally, in part 3 I focus on the cultural reception and interpretation of Wikipedia. I argue that in the history of reference works Wikipedia is not alone in serving as a flashpoint for larger social anxieties about technological and social change. I try to make sense of the social unease embodied in and prompted by Wikipedia by way of four themes present throughout the dissertation: collaborative practice, universal vision, encyclopedic impulse, and technological inspiration. I show that the discourse around Wikipedia reveals concerns about how new forms of technologically mediated content production are changing the role and autonomy of the individual, the authority of existing institutions, and the character (and quality) of cultural products.

Posted by Michael Zimmer at Fri Mar 28 19:55:22 2008
Congratulations, Joseph!

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Fri Mar 28 23:09:23 2008

Posted by ripley at Mon Mar 31 02:03:22 2008
congrats! It looks fascinating! and you are an inspiration.. as I go off (hopefully) to do my fieldwork in the fall.

Posted by Mike Lyons at Sun Aug 3 14:58:54 2008
Hi. Congratulationbs on finishing. I am just starting my dissertation, which is on the journalistic functions of Wikipedia. I would love to see your dissertation. It's not up on Diss Abstracts yet. Any chance I could get a pdf?
Mike LYons

Posted by Joseph  Reagle at Mon Aug 4 12:51:35 2008
Sure, send me an email as you didn't leave any contact info.

Posted by William H Sterner at Tue Aug 25 12:58:54 2009

Just wanted to download a pdf version of your chapter and bibliography.  Any further developments on publication or going online for it?


Bill Sterner

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle