Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2012 Sep 27 | Good Faith Collaboration in Paperback


I’m pleased to announce that there’s one more way to enjoy Good Faith Collaboration. If you still like the feel of paper but $25 is too much you can now have a copy of the paperback for under $15. Happy page turning!

2012 Feb 29 | Fall 2012: Wikipedia Considered

This fall, I’m excited to finally teach a class focused completely on Wikipedia! Come registration, interested Northeastern students should look for COMM4918.

COMM 4918 Communications Special Topics: Wikipedia Considered

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 centuries-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. In this class we will explore Wikipedia’s historical roots, collaborative culture, and much-debated legacy. Specifically, we will ask if Wikipedia is novel, how does peer production work, and whether Wikipedia is a boon or harbinger of doom in knowledge production and education. Students will be asked to engage and contribute content to Wikipedia as part of the class.

2011 Dec 02 | A response to Loveland’s GFC review

I noted in the latest Signpost a new review of Good Faith Collaboration from Jeff Loveland has appeared in the Annals of Science. Loveland is a historian of eighteenth-century encyclopedias, a perspective I’ve been keen to hear as I’ve had reviews from about every other discipline!

While Loveland has some nice things to say, he writes:

Good-Faith Collaboration has one major weakness, namely in historical contextualization. As noted above, Reagle deliberately limits his historical survey to chapter 2 through the 20th century, which excuses his inattention to Vincenzo Coronelli’s Bibliotheca universale and Johann Heinrich Zedler’s Universal-Lexicon, both of which were meant to include contributions from a certain public at large in a manner reminiscent of Wikipedia.

Fair enough. He continues:

More seriously, the analysis of Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View is compromised by Reagle’s conviction that “historically, reference works have made few claims about neutrality as a stance of collaboration, or as an end result” (p. 56). “Neutrality” may have not been much discussed by previous encyclopedias under this name, but references to such values as impartiality, unbiasedness and objectivity are frequent in the prefaces of encyclopedias over the last 300 years. (Loveland 2011, p. 557)

Granted, my focus in time is mostly restricted to the 20th century, but I find this critique intriguing none-the-less. My sense in reading the prefaces of varied 20th century encyclopedias was that their compilers were concerned with highlighting the authority of contributors, their discriminating expertise, and their systems for arranging knowledge in contrast to Wikipedia’s anonymity, neutrality, and folksonomy. There are exceptions, especially in the 18th century (Loveland’s area of expertise) when compilers like Samuel Johnson and Ephraim Chambers wrote much more humbly. Also, these two compilers are early proponents of what we might now call descriptive lexicography. Chambers, in the preface to his Cyclopedia wrote:

The Dictionarist, like an Historian, comes after the Affair; and gives a Description of what pass‘d….. The Dictionarist relates what has pass’d with regard to each of our Ideas, in the Coalitions, or Combinations that have been made thereof.... The Dictionarist is not supposed to have any hand in the Things he relates; he is no more concerned to make the Improvements, or establish the Significations, than the Historian to achieve the Transactions he relates. (Chambers 1728, p. xxii).

None-the-less, even this invocation of historian-like objectivity does not perfectly match 20th century notions, which are detailed in Peter Novick’s (1988) The Noble Dream: the “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession and Mark Smith’s (1994) Social Science in the Crucible: the American Debate over Objectivity and Purpose, 1918 – 1941. (And the Randian/Objectivist influence upon Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales adds yet another valence.)

This is a fascinating topic but unfortunately not a topic I presently spend a lot of time thinking about. However, it just so happens that earlier this year I read Loveland’s (2010) excellent monograph An Alternative Encyclopedia? Dennis de Coetlogon’s Universal History (1745). Therein, I delighted in reading about various plagiaristic practices of early encyclopedists and the ways in which compilers represented themselves in their works, from first-person “authorial disclosures” to religious and political polemics. One excerpt that I found especially amusing was de Coetlogon's defense that “I know that I have been accused of being a Papist; so I am, if to love truth, justice and impartiality is to be one; for I am really a Protestant against error, falsehood, injustice and calumny” (Loveland 2010, p. 193). In any case, I look forward to other scholars attempts to fit Wikipedia into more detailed and nuanced “historical contextualization”!

2011 Nov 29 | Wikimania Keynote

My keynote from Wikimania 2011 (Haifa) is now up. Unfortunately, you can’t see the slides as I talk, but those are online as well.

2011 Sep 23 | Web/CC Edition of Good Faith Collaboration

I'm pleased to announce that the Web/CC edition of Good Faith Collaboration is now available. In addition to all of the book's complete content, hypertextual goodness, and fixed errata, there is a new preface discussing some of the particulars of this edition.

2011 Jun 06 | Critical Point of View Reader

I recently received a bound copy of Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader and it looks to be an interesting (and freely available) collection of chapters on Wikipedia from (mostly) digital humanities and criticism perspectives. (My contribution is an updated reprise of how Wikipedia, like other reference work, serves as an "Argument Engine"; that is, it is a proxy and exemplar in larger cultural battles.)

2011 Mar 30 | Mary Ritter Beard's Critique of Britannica

As I have been working on my "Free As in Sexist?" argument, I have also been looking for earlier critiques of gender bias in reference works. I recently encountered Mary Ritter Beard's 1942 critique of Britannica, for which I contributed a section in her Wikipedia biography. (As always, editing Wikipedia took far longer than it should have, but was aided with the use of mw and help on the IRC channel regarding {{sfn}}.

After the dissolution of the World Centre for Women's Archives in 1940, Beard's next project was an analysis of Encyclopaedia Britannica's representation of women. Beard convened a team of fellow female scholars (Dora Edinger, Janet A. Selig, and Marjorie White) to produce A Study of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in Relation to its Treatment of Women. Beard and her colleagues worked on the report over an 18 month period and in November 1942 delivered its 42 pages to Walter Yust, chief editor of the Britannica. However, the recommendations of the report were ignored despite Yust's expressed interest and assurances that the Britannica would include improvements. Hence, Beard was disappointed with the effort and in 1947 correspondence she suggested that women no longer write for the Britannica.

The report included significant recommendations on existing articles as well as suggestions for new articles. For example, the authors noted that the treatment of abortion was not comprehensive as it was more than a moral question; abortion was also relevant to population, political, health, medical, and social issues. The study also noted that the article in education was too masculine, questioned why there was no article on "Queen," and why women were not included in the Britannica's treatment of health and medicine. Additionally, from the article on "Song" the report noted: "No women sang in Europe, it appears from this review. The contributions of nuns, in choir composition and singing, is not recognized at all." Topics that the authors recommended for inclusion included bathing, bread-making, dyeing, hospital, hunger, laundrying, salons and social implements.

2011 Mar 18 | Collective Intelligence and Women

A paper that I was happy to read while working on my draft of "Free As in Sexist?" was the recent Science article "Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups". The researchers found evidence of a "collective intelligence" factor on group tasks that was less related to the highest intelligence member, or the group's average intelligence, than to average social sensitivity, conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group! They conclude "it would seem to be much easier to raise the intelligence of a group than an individual. Could a group's collective intelligence be increased by, for example, better electronic collaboration tools?" I wonder if those using electronic collaboration tools have their collective intelligence increased via greater female participation?!

2011 Feb 15 | Comparative "gender gaps"

How do different language versions of Wikipedia fair with respect to the gender gap? (As was recently asked on the gendergap list.)

My preliminary tabulation (of data from DaB via Brandon Harris) is below. It appears a lot of Russians gender declare. One of the odd things with the survey from which the famous "13%" is derived is how many Russians participated. Maybe they are less than shy in identifying themselves with Wikipedia?

en      :  2.01% declared: 233312 M; 46973 W; W are 16.76%
de      :  3.47% declared:  35726 M;  4800 W; W are 11.84%
fr      :  2.16% declared:  18556 M;  3054 W; W are 14.13%
commons :  2.26% declared:  27980 M;  5070 W; W are 15.34%
sr      :  2.66% declared:   1666 M;   414 W; W are 19.90%
ru      : 16.80% declared:  80491 M; 23750 W; W are 22.78%
pl      :  3.64% declared:  12106 M;  2999 W; W are 19.85%
nl      :  2.92% declared:   8977 M;  1781 W; W are 16.56%

I've also heard it said that the Japanese Wikipedia is characterized by a lot of anonymous contributions because of issues of power distance and face. I wonder if this would also relates how many people there declare their gender? I'll post an update if I get that data.

2011 Feb 05 | Extended book conversations

It's always a pleasure to be able to speak with people outside of the constraints of a sound bite. Recently I've participated in a few such conversations about Good Faith Collaboration.

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Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle