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.