Administrative Support Bots in Wikipedia: How Automation Can Transform the Affordances of Platforms and the Governance of Communities


I discuss cases from a multi-year ethnographic study of automated software agents in Wikipedia, where ‘bots’ have fundamentally transformed the nature of the ‘anyone can edit’ encyclopedia project. Bots and bot developers have long been a core part of the Wikipedian community, and I studied how the development and operation of automated software agents intersected with the development of organizational and epistemic norms. My ethnographic project involved participant-observation in various spaces of Wikipedia: both routine editorial activity in Wikipedia (which is assisted through bots) and specific work in bot development, including proposing, developing, and operating a bot of my own. I also conducted extensive historical analysis of the history of Wikipedia, including case studies of bots throughout Wikipedia’s 15 year history.