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.
So given what’s going on* in Egypt and the Middle East, we in the West are fascinated by not so much revolutions and popular uprisings against dictatorial regimes, but an efficacious use of social media. Even Clinton is talking about the Internet as “the world’s town square”, and it seems that the old conversation about the Internet and the public sphere is going to flare up for the third time (1993-5 and 2001-3 are the other two times). Since Habermas is generally credited for bringing this notion of the public sphere to the forefront of popular, political, and academic discourse, it is natural to cite him. Then critique him to death, talking about how we need to get beyond an old white guy’s theories. And it feels good, I know.
The problem is that most people only read his first book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, which was written in 1962, and then proceed to critique “the Habermasian public sphere.” I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read which demand that we ‘move beyond’ Habermas or go ‘post-Habermasian’ and only cite Structural Transformation. It’s a great literary foil if you’re advancing your own concept of the public sphere, and the whole ‘new events require a re-evaluation of old theories’ is a mainstay of academia. As a crazy post-Latourian socio-technical ethnographer who grants agency to everything (literally, every single thing) except for social structures, it is weird that I’m defending him. But I’m also a huge proponent of keeping your intellectual allies close and your intellectual opponents closer.
* I love how all our social/cultural/economic/political theories of the state, legitimacy, revolution, and democracy are undergoing their most radical problematization since the fall of the Soviet Union, such that we don’t know how to name the events in the past month, thus we settle on something like “what’s going on.”
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.
I’ve been doing a lot of work on virtual ethnography lately, and I was reading a recently-published book titled “Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method” edited by Annette Markham and Nancy Baym. What was most interesting was the following footnote on the first page of the introduction, in which the authors argue that “Internet” should not be capitalized:
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?
As someone who studies Internet culture, one of my biggest problems is “link rot,” or broken links. I’m a big fan of the Internet Archive, but they are usually six to eight months behind on even the most popular sites. I also applaud sites like Wikipedia for providing stable version histories so that I can point to a specific revision of a page. However, for all other websites, the only option is self-archiving, which is technically difficult and fraught with problems. What I have found incredibly useful is WebCite, a free webpage archiving service that fills in this gap.
Director of the Library of Alexandria, Dr. Ismail Serageldin gave a keynote speech on the first day of Wikimania 2008 titled, New Paradigms for New Tomorrows. It was quite thoughtful and inspiring – the man is one of the most amazing individuals I have heard. He is learned in so many different areas of academic and cultural knowledge, as well as incredibly wise. I would recommend watching the video of his speech, but if you are pressed for time you can read my notes.
This is a paper I presented at Wikimania 2008, the international conference of those involved with or interested in Wikipedia, Wiktonary, Wikibooks, or any other wiki under the Wikimedia Foundation umbrella. This presentation was about the relationship between Wikipedia and Academia. Continue reading …
Content and the Internet in the (Globalized) Middle East, Dr. Ahmed Tantawi, Technical Director, IBM Middle East and North Africa. Another copy of my notes from Wikimania 2008 – this was the keynote speech on the second day of the conference. He began by warning us that, “I’ve changed this presentation, and I’ll change it during. That is open content, yes?” Everyone laughed.
The official theme or slogan for this year’s Wikimania is “the knowledge revolution that is changing wisdom.” I think this phrase – especially the difference between knowledge and wisdom – was chosen very carefully and I think it is an excellent distinction to make. This morning’s opening ceremony began with a speech from the Egyptian Minister of State for Administrative Development, Dr. Ahmed Darwish. I will relay his comments here, without much analysis – that will come later, when I have the time.