I describe the complex social and technical environment in which bots exist in Wikipedia, emphasizing not only how bots produce order and enforce rules, but also how humans produce bots and negotiate rules around their operation. After giving a brief overview of how previous research into Wikipedia has tended to mis-conceptualize bots, I give a case study tracing the life of one such automated software agent, and how it came to be integrated into the Wikipedian community.
This is a paper I co-authored with David Ribes and recently presented at HICSS, the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. It’s a qualitative methodology based on analyzing logging data that we developed through my research on Wikipedia, but has some pretty broad applications for studying highly-distributed groups. It’s an inversion of the previous paper we presented at CSCW, showing in detail how we traced how Wikipedian vandal fighters as they collectively work to identify and ban malicious contributors.
Abstract: We detail the methodology of ‘trace ethnography’, which combines the richness of participant-observation with the wealth of data in logs so as to reconstruct patterns and practices of users in distributed sociotechnical systems. Trace ethnography is a flexible, powerful technique that is able to capture many distributed phenomena that are otherwise difficult to study. Our approach integrates and extends a number of longstanding techniques across the social and computational sciences, and can be combined with other methods to provide rich descriptions of collaboration and organization.
Citation: Geiger, R.S., & Ribes, D. (2011). Trace Ethnography: Following Coordination Through Documentary Practices. In Proceedings of the 44th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. Retrieved from http://www.stuartgeiger.com/trace-ethnography-hicss-geiger-ribes.pdf
This is a paper that I recently got published in gnovis, which is a peer-reviewed journal run entirely by graduate students at Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program. It is a sneakishly Latourian intervention into the debate between Habermasians and post-Habermasians regarding the Internet as a (part of the) public sphere. They have been arguing for some time about whether the Internet (and specifically blogging) leads to political fragmentation or real collective action. However, they have all taken for granted the highly-automated software infrastructures that mediate our knowledge of the blogosphere. The article is up in HTML on the gnovis site, but I’ve also made a full-text, metadata friendly PDF simply because Google Scholar likes those. The abstract is after the jump.
With the help of my advisor, Dr. David Ribes, I recently got a chapter of my master’s thesis accepted to the ACM conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, to be held in February 2010 in Savannah, Georgia. It is titled “The Work of Sustaining Order in Wikipedia: The Banning of a Vandal” and focuses on the roles of automated ‘bots’ and assisted editing tools in Wikipedia’s ‘vandal fighting’ network.
Abstract: In this paper, we examine the social roles of software tools in the English-language Wikipedia, specifically focusing on autonomous editing programs and assisted editing tools. This qualitative research builds on recent research in which we quantitatively demonstrate the growing prevalence of such software in recent years. Using trace ethnography, we show how these often-unofficial technologies have fundamentally transformed the nature of editing and administration in Wikipedia. Specifically, we analyze „vandal fighting‟ as an epistemic process of distributed cognition, highlighting the role of non-human actors in enabling a decentralized activity of collective intelligence. In all, this case shows that software programs are used for more than enforcing policies and standards. These tools enable coordinated yet decentralized action, independent of the specific norms currently in force.
This is a paper I wrote for a class on “Technology and Critique” – a class that blended critical theory with Science and Technology Studies. Taking from Bruno Latour’s “Do you believe in Reality? News from the Trenches of the Science Wars,” this work is a critical examination of the way in which the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia has been implicitly cast as a continuation of the Science Wars. Instead of debating about the efficacy and authority of science, academics are now debating the efficacy and authority of Wikipedia. Using Martin Heidegger’s work on ontology and technology, I argue that this particular academic mindset is a way of being-in-the-world that works to either affirm or negate the integration of Wikipedia into its particular projects – namely, the production of academic knowledge. However, I show that asking whether Wikipedia is a reliable academic source enframes Wikipedia into an objectless standing-reserve of potential citations, foreclosing many other possibilities for its use. Instead of following Steven Colbert and countless academics by asking what Wikipedia has done to reality, I ask: what have we done to Wikipedia in the name of reality?
This was my final project for an Information Studies class I took back in 2006, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas. Our assignment was to transform information from one form to another, and I chose to perform this analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. I scanned and OCRed the entire book and did a visual frequency representation of certain words. I analyzed by chapter and comprehensively with certain core themes in the work. I also did a comprehensive analysis with more general or common words. It is intended to look the way it does, as I am going for a “1960s IBM goes to the academy” look. Take what you will from it: it is about 35% art, 25% snarky pastiche, 15% pretending to be linguistics, and -5% serious intellectual critique. Here is a sample from the third chapter:
This paper is a Foucauldian account of power relations as expressed through discourse in the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. Using Foucault’s methodology as developed in The Archaeology of Knowledge, a conflict over the existence of an article on one of Wikipedia’s competitors (Encyclopedia Dramatica) will be analyzed. By examining both official and unofficial sources, it is shown that conflicts over content in Wikipedia are structured around a network of organizing questions.
This is an investigation into an Internet subculture which I wrote for a class I took titled “Rhetorics of Cybercultures.” It is an ethnography into the community formed by small number of Wikipedia contributors who care enough to decide how, at some level, Wikipedia is run. The work discusses identity, communication, and organizational hierarchy in this subculture.
My thesis, written 2006 and 2007 in partial fulfillment of my undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin, studied the legal culture of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited over one hundred thousand contributors around the world. Despite the fact that the project emphasizes freedom and gives off an aura of structurelessness, Wikipedia has a complex and often hidden legal system, dominating every contribution made to the encyclopedia. This thesis uses methods in legal anthropology to examine the law through stories and histories, giving the reader a sense of not only what the Wikipedian legal system is, but also what fundamental assumptions the community makes in utilizing such a system. No specific knowledge of Wikipedia or legal philosophy is necessary for the full comprehension of this work, although readers who are familiar with one or both might find it especially relevant.
I should note that this work has many flaws, and is currently being revised. Please send me an e-mail if you wish to cite it, as it is of a draft-like quality. I have realized that it is built on a fundamental misconception that juridical power structures (that is, ways of conceptualizing the role of law) are universal. I am in the process of writing a more dialectical “social history” of Wikipedia that recognizes the interdependency of hard and soft norms, social roles and relationships, as well as formal and informal social networks in Wikipedia.
This is a piece of web art or net art, with an included work of art criticism about the piece. The work makes the argument that while interactive digital art can be considered user-centered, this new style and medium is only centered around those possibilities that the creator wishes to make available to the user. You can see The Facticity of Art at http://stuartgeiger.com/art/art-intro.shtml.