From Wikipedia’s Editing to See A Birth of A New Methodology

On: October 11, 2011
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About Duohuai Zhang
Doing MA of New Media in UvA currently; Done BA from Communication University of China at English Broadcasting and Anchoring Major; Want to be an Internet Consultant in the future. Interested in music and advertising.

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Abstract

Wikipedia is a knowledge base, whose foundation is cooperation and sharing, and used for free in network. It has established its reputation as the largest encyclopedia ever, offering and ever-growing database of free knowledge for all Internet users. The issue here is: What makes Wikipedia work? Unlike other known online communities that accumulate membership by proffering loads of services, or those that profit from advertisements, Wikipedia not only offers its content without any charging, but also allows anyone to edit and disseminate it freely. Meanwhile, web services in the “Web 2.0” future should work at amalgamating more aids, with aims to make things better for the majority. As a result, this paper introduces Wikipedia’s origin and particular working mode involved, together with its development survey, analyses the reason of its rapid development, its distinguishing features and rules.

What Wikipedia Is

Wikipedia, which is founded by Jimmy Wales, is a free Internet encyclopedia sites. It does not need to be reworked by proofreaders, namely meaning no person takes charge in responsible checking whether the contents true or not. Anyone is franchised to add or delete any entries, or edit any content.

There exits a huge difference between the notions of traditional encyclopedias and Wikipedia. At first glance it may not look succeeded in its beginning time, but in less than four years, it exceeded 1 million entries, which from the Albanian to Zulu written in 100 languages.

It’s easier to see what achievement Wikipedia fulfills by comparing with the traditional encyclopedia in especial within the span of time when the first 1 million Wikipedia entries published on the occasion meanwhile the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography published, which released the latest version. This dictionary took 12 years to compile for publishing, but the biography of its income merely obtains 55,000 while costing 25 million pounds on them. Nevertheless, so far the Wikipedia, which only sponsored on Wales his own, solely cost about 30 million pounds. The new version of Encyclopedia Britannica is armed with 44 million words, which is largely less than The Wikipedia’s amount that has a total volume of more than 250 million words.

Wikipedia, in terms of scale, efficiently has achieved an indisputable fact, while talking about academics or quality there will inevitably be questioned. The consequences engendered by Wikipedia’s model will never be perfect, a German technology magazine, however, recently published an article about a comparative study between Wikipedia and other two old traditional digital encyclopedias, which are Brockhaus and Microsoft’s Encarta. From diverse perspectives, such as the breadth, depth and the level of content understanding, the degree of searching and the referencing quality of the evaluation, the article held a contest among these three digital encyclopedias and the result is that Wikipedia wins. Virtually, this result is not difficult to understand logically because we can simply put Wikipedia as a way to any traditional encyclopedia that online allow people to freely expand and revise the entries and content.

The Main Characteristics of Wikipedia’s Working Mode

Juxtaposed by traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia’s fundamental difference is to provide a core focusing to complete the same task in which everyone is allowed to partake, which means people involved in endowed with the equal of opportunity to build their fab and interests that do not entail an elite or authority even a full-time expert. The granting system runs without of any specialists but in the process of editing itself. Simply saying, the Wikipedia’s credo is: As long as there are enough people paying attention, all problems will be solved for so many people flocked in Wikipedia and all the errors and abuses of the system will soon be found. Vandalism usually will be cleaned out as soon as possible.

We are here not to discuss Wikipedia itself, but a significantly universal working mode enshrined — Wikipedia work mode. A prerequisite condition for the success of this mode is that there have to contain participator aimed at the same task by full attention, and it is through the expansion of participating subjects to solve problems and improve quality. While the simultaneous and collaborative working around one subject only occur on the Internet that also only could be achieved online. That is to say the existence and ubiquitous implementation of the Internet play an extremely pivotal role of technical conditions for this work mode.

According to subjective presence of Wikipedia, Wikipedia work mode proffers the civilian cultural pursuit in the diversity, openness, and non-authoritarian. It doesn’t need “elite”, but there is no limit on the partaking of “elite”; Everyone participating in are bestowed “all rights”, but the opinion’s expression are not of equal weight; Personal “opinions” signifies to its results and its “value” directly related; “Value” determined by the public in the decision process, rather than the “authority” rating. Another remarkable trait of Wikipedia work mode is that it provides a “brain-storming” working climate for the interaction of the main ideas, making its creative potential into full play.

Viewing from the stance of the engaging entity, Wikipedia works with the spirit inherent utterly corresponding to the contemporary political and public administration questing after democracy, public participation, and scientific decision-making philosophy. This mode will be applied to public affairs decision-making and management, which can make democracy and science not functioning merely in slogans, not just a prospect and goals, but being doable procedures, methods, systems, assurance, and implementation.

The Self-Organization Structure of Wikipedia’s Working Mode.

Matter, movement and information constitute the variety of basic elements of natural world. In this sophisticated biological and social systems many laws are passed through the information to let it start and cease.

Now let’s from the information level then examine the feature of work mode’s performance in Wikipedia. Hypothetically assume that the Wikipedia is in existence as an information system. This system, thanks to its openness, has efficiently undergo a process of the quantity’s expansion and qualitative improvement, which is quite analogous to the “self-organization” phenomenon in nature and society, which just name as the informational “self-organization”.

In Wikipedia, this ceaseless evolution of “self-organization” phenomenon can be specifically disunited into the escalating number of entries’ edit or delete. The growing number of entries refers to the expansion in the body; Entries’ edit or delete the works as the amendment of some relevant information and excluding of some irrelevant information, both of which overall showcase the quality’s promotion of the system. From this we can tell that this “self-organizing” is not the simple accumulation of information but via the extensive openness of system acquiring the positive evolution — the quantity expansion and quality improvement.

In order to realize the “self-organization” of Internet’s information”, it must firstly establish a positive evolution of mechanism. In other words, certain rules ought to be formulated.

Generally, the rules should follow the following principles: first, democratic principles, which connote specific groups are privileged to express their views on specific topics; second, progressive principles for any kind of comments can be refined by anyone; third, neutral principle, denoting that the expression of all opinions should be science-based, can not have ideological paranoia; fourth, the principle of preventing maliciousness, which means depriving those providers of spiteful information of the right of inputting any opinion. On Wikipedia, its operating regulation is that everyone can add, edit or delete entries. Of course, in addition to operating rules, sometimes also some principles of value judgment are needed such as the Wikipedia editorial policy indicating that all articles should reflect the “neutral point of view.”

The potent rules can make the main body that is anarchy, lacking of control work in cooperation and let an unusual complexity and the formation of a democratic society function in good working order.

The Revelation from Wikipedia’s Methodology

Wikipedia is constantly growing, and now every day there are about 3,000 new entries added; as the scope of Wikipedia grows, the editing of entries is also increasing. Wikipedia has leveraged the traditional way of accumulating information, it’s been a successful model of online collaboration and cooperation, and which has profound significance of methodological utilization.

First, based on Internet technological platform and the extensive use of Internet as a prerequisite, Wikipedia attained to realize the most substantial participation of specific tasks of mankind to solve (which involved both the breadth and depth of a qualitatively difference), to maximize the convergence of human beings’ wisdom. It does not rely on a few elites, but via collaboration to stimulate people’s creative potential so that this prominent “convergence” in effect to achieve the “synergistic” consequence. Wikipedia’s work mode, therefore, brought about a revolution on methodology.

Second, nowadays we depict today’s sharp increment of information as the “information explosion” to blow everybody’s heads. This information’s avalanche engenders not only useful information, which we can only take sip of, but also accidentally we would be bogged down in a quagmire of useless information. Wikipedia’s “self-organization” working mode is granted with the self-sift information function, which can detect and remove extraneous and/or erroneous information, meanwhile it also can effectively preserve and improve the useful information to overcome the traditional information carriers, such as the individual’s brain, books’ insufficiencies in area such as capacity function. For such information’s saving in the network system, in principle, cannot be forgotten, lost, and can fulfill the most efficient management and utilization of information. From the perspective on knowledge accumulation, it can ensure the process of building and storing the human being’s knowledge will not waste any unnecessary loads of work. Therefore, it is another revolution on the area of accumulation of human knowledge.

Third, democracy and science are not only the goal that global universal values pursue, the goal of contemporary politics and public administration, however, pursue. Wikipedia’s working mode accords specific tasks assigned to particular groups of all individuals the same right to partake — which is in line with the spirit of democracy; the individual views of the results are weighted rest with its correctness — which is in line with the spirit of scientific decision-making. Therefore, it is a revolution for human beings to achieve democracy, scientific ideal approach.

Fourth, Wikipedia’s working mode functioned via a large number of individual’s decentralized, extensive and automatic participation to accomplish a common task, thus, which led to a revolution on the conservation of social resource and on the elevation of social efficiency.

In short, Wikipedia’s participatory editing reveals the birth of a brand new working method through the development and proliferation of Internet. It works as a revolution starkly in the way of human working and collaborating.

The Application of Wikipedia’s Working Mode

Wikipedia’s working mode has a profound methodological significance, which is not just an encyclopedia compiling and editing method, rather it contains an open, democratic, collaborative working mode based on the universal significance on the Internet, providing a wild-open prospect of its wide application. Here are a few specific and emerging applied areas as examples.

I. Rescue Endangered Human Culture

With the surging process of globalization and the amalgam of human civilization, the extinction of marginal civilization and cultural diversity intensifies on large scale, which has become a worrying cultural phenomenon today. Therefore, many wide-awake people’s voice on rescue endangered human culture is getting higher and higher, which provoke interested parties to participate in this work. Yet their approach is still the traditional one: leaning on experts, collecting local folk songs, and recording accumulation of working etc. Although this method has been on for quite a long time, talking about documenting, managing such as language, writing, folk literature and the existence of a certain material form in such a large cultural projects and cultural achievements, this archaic method’s shortcomings are particularly obvious for these types of cultural achievements spread wide and retain vast amount of information. If only by experts’ collecting, the results are often be poorly conceived due to constraining by the amount of participants and the deficiencies of proximity to the main targets, which caused the collected material being fragmentary. Using Wikipedia’s working mode to the rescue endangered human culture, nonetheless, could fulfill the widest possibilities in participation of the main body, additionally, by adjusting the rules the information can be filtered and selected in high efficiency which executing the purpose of the protection of human civilization maximally in a very low cast.

II. Problem Solving

There is a technique for creating called brainstorming, relying on easy doing to render its own widely application and functioning. The principle of Brainstorming is that each individual’s creativity could be inspired by the “stirring” conditions to achieve the “synergistic” multiplied effect, which is equivalent of the Chinese saying that “three heads are better than one.” Wikipedia’s working mode is also brainstorming but with higher level, more people involved, and more efficiency, which can be abroad applied to solve more sophisticated problems. It posits the Internet as a platform to gather human’s intelligence in full and “brainstorm” with each other around specific issues so as to reach grounds of solving the problem.

III. The Operation of Democratic Politics

Democracy is a product of human social development and democratic politics is the system settings of civil participation in public affairs. Ameliorating the degree of democratization is the common pursuit of contemporary civilized society. Although democracy is a universal value in today’s world, its developing process is not a smooth sailing, especially in some regions with disordered democratic system in the name of democracy but operated in dictatorship. In order to make the democracy not be merely a futile and pointless slogan, it is critical to make democracy more feasible and operational. If we could broadly use the Wikipedia’s working mode in actual performance of democratic politics and public affairs decision-making, we can, by the greatest extent, guarantee citizens’ right to obtain information and to participate, which also ensure the voice of masses could be expressed in full. This procedure does not need any authorities or arbiters so as to achieve the maximum degree of democratic decision-making. By setting the regulation, it assembled public intelligence to realize the accumulation of progressive and effective information, and ultimately to attain the scientific decision-making.

Wikipedia’s working mode fully embodies the democratization of decision-making process. If this working mode is widely used in social and political operations and management of public affairs, it will become a mechanism of democracy to ensure all the democratic and scientific decision-making are made correctly, and will greatly accelerate the process of democratization of society.

Conclusion

In summary, the swift and prolific development of Wikipedia entirely hinges on a series of innovative value and the effective implementation that established from the outset. With its influence becoming larger and larger progressively, Wikipedia attracts more and more public participation on their own initiative so as to let Wikipedia achieve and maintain at a high cultural academic standards. Even the most conservative encyclopedia experts can as well feel the collision from Wikipedia to the traditional encyclopedia in recent years. Although Wikipedia temporarily cannot constitute the threat to the traditional encyclopedia in authority level, the informative and enlightening contents haven’t admit any of doubt. And talking about timeliness and dynamic traits, Wikipedia performs much better and more comprehensive than the traditional one.

As a complex and cosmopolitan network of social institutions, Wikipedia manages users’ interaction through the sequential coordination. Based on its unique self-organization, Wikipedia not solely invents a new approach of quality assurance to refine the contents and each subdivision within, but also lay out the correct orders of information. The editing process of entries distinctly shows awareness of quality issues from Wikipedia’s users, as well as the procedure that how they improve the quality of communication and collaboration.

The study found that the Wikipedia community takes a very meticulous treatment of the editing standard, a strict self-organization mechanism underlying the seemingly chaotic appearance. Anyone is allowed to participate in the editing of entries, the results from their modifying, however, also need to carefully be interrogated and discussed. It is worthwhile to note that Wikipedia’s self-organized state is a dynamic equilibrium one, continuing to proceed toward a higher degree of lever and more advanced hierarchical organization. Currently Wikipedia’s attention has shifted to focus on quality rather than quantities’ growth.

According to the success which Wikipedia has attained reveals the opening notion of Wikipedia is not only entirely accessible, but also brings the fundamental changes to the way of knowledge producing and sharing. When each person can write their own knowledge and share it with others as long as they can use the Internet, the production and possession of knowledge will no longer be the patent for some certain people. It allows everyone to make their voices be heard, meanwhile, their voice cannot be the only and absolute for they should firstly learn to listen to others. This pattern inside of Wikipedia is precisely reflects that network culture has an inclination for diversification, openness, civilianization, popularization and non-authoritarianism.

Reference

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  1. Giles, J. (2005, December). Internet encyclopedias go head to head [electronic version]. Nature, 438(7068): 900-901
  1. Hidding, G. J. Catterall, S. M. (1998). Anatomy of a Learning Organization: Turning Knowledge into Capital at Andersen Consulting [electronic version], Knowledge and Process Management, 5(1), 3-13.
  1. Kelley, H. H., Stahelski, A. J. (1970). Social Interaction Basis of Cooperators’ and Competitors’ Beliefs About Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16(1), 66-91.
  1. Lih, A. (2004). Wikipedia as participatory journalism: reliable sources? Metrics for evaluating collaborative media as a news resource [electronic version]. In: Proceedings of 5th International Symposium on Online Journalism. Austin, TX.
  1. Stvilia, B., Twidale, M.B., Gasser, L., Smith, L.C.. (2005). Information quality discussion in wikipedia. In: Proceedings of the 2005 International Conference on Knowledge Management. 101–113
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