What's so Special about the Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that invites the participation of everyone. As long as you have internet access, you can be part of their editorial team. When most people expect the site to be flooded by vandalism given its open nature, the reverse is true. Instead of getting spammed by vandalism, the website sustains and expands in an exponential rate. Right now there are about half million articles on the English Wikipedia, which was the first language of Wikipedia until it evolved into more than 100 languages since 2001.

But what exactly makes Wikipedia so different from other online social project? In this presentation, the distinctive features of Wikipedia such as its social structure, mode of production, policies such as the Neutral Point of View Policy (NOPV), and its warm acceptance of anonymous users will be explored in details. I would also discuss the potential social, political and cultural implications of Wikipedia in hope of answering the above question in perspectives.

The presentation is hosted here for graphics and illustration in pdf format.


I'm excited about this presentation. Wikipedia is such a dear topic to me, and it's good to see how far it has traveled and the tremendous influence it is having all over the world. Jimmy Wales, you know, lives right here in Florida (in fact I think he's in Tampa or St. Pete). It's been awhile since I've talked to him, but I saw where he'd been interviewed in TIME.

Larry Sanger is one of the co-founders of Wikipedia who got disillusioned with the project and quit. Why? He argues that wikipedia should jettison its anti-elitism if it hopes to be taken seriously by the non-converted. Sanger thinks we ought to setup a panel of experts, if you will, and let them have dictatorial powers over the entries. The argument between Sanger and Wales really makes concrete the rather abstract rift that formed long ago between the political theories of Habermas and Lyotard. It's easy to see how events like the Holocaust can shake up your beliefs about the benevolence or validity of the "public's judgment." Does "democracy" ultimately lead to mob rule? Our founding fathers certainly seemed to think so, as the founding of the electoral college illustrates.

What really interests me about Wikipedia is whether or not we ought to view it as "communist." Someone might say the same thing that "open source" types say when someone accuses them of communism: "We ain't communists, cause we don't have dictators." In fact, I've heard them set "communist" and "democratic" up as binary opposites. Still, even if we granted that "communism" did involve a Stalin, then perhaps Wales would be standing in that role? After all, ultimately someone does have control of the central server and the domain name. What I find intriguing, though, is that the very thing that makes Wikipedia influential is the lack of direct control. Perhaps any efforts to assume a dictatorial role might destroy the Wikipedia.

What's your view?

Interesting comments Matt. They helped me better understand Cathy's paper, or at least see it in a different light, and gave me something to think about beyond what I was already thinking about Wikipedia. It's interesting that someone would raise the spectre of communism (an economic and social theory, as opposed to democracy, which I have never viewed as an economic theory. Rather, it's the free market of capitalism versus the centrally planned market and economy of communism as possible binaries). Anyway, where wikipedia would seem to fit is the withering of the state stage of communisim, when we all get along so well with each other's self-interest in mind and at heart, we don't need the state to intervene and compel us to play nice. It sounds like Sanger doesn't want the state to wither, fearing that thuggish "deconstructionist" mentality of contemporary anarchists, rather than enlightened marxist anarchists.

One other thing I was thinking about with regard to wikipedia was the way it forms community. Michael Day touched on this somewhat, but specifically with regard to MediaMOO and Charlie Lowe chimed in on Drupal and how community was/is formed and maintained. It would seem, in this respect, that wikipedia has the best of both those worlds. Taking from the MOO, people get to work on whatever the heck they want, whenever the heck they want. They don't have to concern themselves so much with the whole. This element is also part of Drupal, but rather than the building of a module or whatever for software, the MOO builder builds his own thing, unless working on a/the core, and the wikipedia person builds their own entry, or modifies, or plants the seed, or whatever. Plus, if I understand, Drupal upgrades and revisions are vetted by powers that are greater than most contributors.

Maybe I want to call it modular self-selection, I'm not sure, that drives both Wikipedia and Drupal but keeps them scalable. No one has to work on the whole thing. With a MOO core, though, while there are changes to the whole, they tend to be handled by the dedicated programmers, by the uber-programmer in some respect. Or, folks in a MOO just do their own thing with little regard to how the whole of the MOO is affected, as long as they make reasonable connections to other rooms in the world. I don't really know where I'm going with this. It isn't turning out as clear cut as it was in my mind before I started typing. :(


Well, when I see someone referring to "modularity" in programming and efficient means of collaborative programming, I start thinking of OOP (object oriented programming). I think we can see OOP working at a very fundamental level with DRUPAL and Wikipedia. The four principles of OOP are Encapsulation, Hybridity, Inheritance, and Polymorphism. Even without definining these terms as they would be understood by a Java or C++ programmer, you can see how they apply to Drupal's modular structure and Wikipedia's content-building strategies. I think one reason Wikipedia works so well as opposed to other wiki-based projects like Lessig's effort to use a wiki to help him revise CODE is that the Wikipedia allows for all of these OOP concepts.

For instance, you don't have to edit the whole Wikipedia. You can edit a particular entry without affecting the whole. This allows people with different interests and knowledge to be able to enrich the whole project without worrying about the project as a whole. The entries in the 'pedia work like modules or libraries would in an open source project. A Drupal programmer can work on improving a single module she's concerned about without having to worry about other aspects of the development. The principle that makes that possible is Encapsulation. The idea is to create "black boxes" that work with other black boxes to perform a common function. If you work on Lessig's book, then you can't just change a paragraph without thinking about it how your changes will mesh with the rest of the book. If you change an entry on "Derrida" in the Wikipedia, you really don't have to worry about the general pages on Deconstruction or even Literary Theory. Lessig is trying to use an object-oriented writing environment (a wiki) for a very structure-oriented task (a book).

Of course, many entries in the pedia (as well as parts of Drupal) have the principles of hybridity and inheritance. You see that in the 'pedia with specialized entries that refer back to broader categories. So, you might be looking at a particular kind of rabbit, but then notice you can also see a parent category of rabbits in general, and then of rodents.

Let the workers of wikipedia receive support to protect their website so that it should continue help the people to ind the right information. Wikipedia is doing a great job to help with study research all over the world. It's the mother of other search website so let their domain be controlled well and protected for better usage


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