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 project investigates various software programs as non-human social actors in Wikipedia,
arguing that their influence must not be overlooked in research of the on-line encyclopedia
project. Using statistical and archival methods, the roles of assisted editing programs and bots are
examined. First, the proportion of edits made by these non-human actors is significantly more
than previously described in earlier research. Second, these actors have moved into new spaces,
changing not just the practice of article writing and reviewing, but also administrative work.
This week, I’m presenting a poster at WikiSym 2009 on “The Social Roles of Bots and Assisted Editing Tools.” Most of the work is distilled from my thesis.
Abstract: This project investigates various software programs as non-human social actors in Wikipedia, arguing that their influence must not be overlooked in research of the on-line encyclopedia project. Using statistical and archival methods, the roles of assisted editing programs and bots are examined. First, the proportion of edits made by these non-human actors is significantly more than previously described in earlier research. Second, these actors have moved into new spaces, changing not just the practice of article writing and reviewing, but also administrative work.
Jimmy Wales speaking at the conference keynote, by GreenReaper, CC BY-SA 3.0
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the first (hopefully annual) WikiConference New York, sponsored by the Wikimedia New York City chapter with assistance from Free Culture @ NYU and the Information Law Institute at NYU’s law school. I know that I am atrociously late in writing this post, but I’m not really writing it for the Wikipedians out there. Rather, the WikiConference was an interesting experiment that seemed to apply Wikipedia’s philosophy towards editing to a conference, resulting in what the organizers called a “modified unconference.” Continue reading …
Here are the slides from a paper I presented at the Science and Technology in Society Conference, hosted by the AAAS this past weekend. I won an award for top paper in my section for it – so I’m pretty happy about it. The full paper is not up because it is a Frankenstein assemblage from my thesis, which I’ll be finishing up in less than a month.
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 …
I’ve been doing a lot of work with copyright and software licenses for my new job at the Federation of American Scientists, and I’ve come upon a strange situation that someone else has bound to have thought about before. The GNU Free Documentation License, the copyleft license that Wikipedia, the Free Software Foundation, and many others use to ensure open access as well as the right to modify and re-release their text-based works, is itself not licensed under the GNU FDL or any similar scheme. Instead, the freedom to modify the license is explicitly denied. Continue reading …
This presentation was adapted from a chapter in my Senior thesis on Wikipedia’s legal system that focused on a dispute over the inclusion of images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in an article about him, using a methodology of communicative ethnography. Most who opposed the image were not familiar with Wikipedia’s unique method of content regulation and dispute resolution, as well as its editorial standards and principles. However, most who argued in favor of keeping the image knew these and initially used them to their advantage. This ethnographic study of the communicative strategies used by the parties involved in the dispute shows how new editors to the user-written encyclopedia first emerged in a hostile communicative environment and subsequently adapted their argumentative strategies. This conflict is an excellent example of how disputes are resolved in Wikipedia, showing how this new media space regulates its own content.
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.