Ask-the-Masters: Can we use Wikipedia to map emergent issues?

On: October 5, 2006
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About Michael Stevenson
I am a lecturer and PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I've been a contributor to Masters of Media since 2006, though I now only post occasionally. A short list of papers and projects can be found here


Watching the Mark Foley scandal make its way from a newspaper blog to political blogs to the front pages of major newspapers, I was intrigued with how various actors got involved (and by actors I mean places, things, terms as well as people). I started wondering if there was a way to measure the effect on perceptions of these related issues/persons/etc.

Obviously Wikipedia is a site of some contestation regarding perceptions of these things, and, given its ‘live Web’ setting, I wonder if it could be used to visualize scandals/issues in a new way. Would it be possible to use data like Version History, frequency of updates, links in and links out to make wikipedia-maps?

The idea is basically that some scandals (especially Western political ones) transfer quickly to Wikipedia and that the format, with all its interlinking, makes interesting relationships explicit. In other words, Discourse analysis 2.0: with the Foley scandal, where in the ‘network’ do the words ‘pedophile’ and ‘alcohol problem’ fit? To what extent are other Republicans involved, and how much discursive ‘action’ is centered around the fact that Foley authored legislation to prevent child pornography?
So can we use Wikipedia to map these things? Is such research already being carried out? Is it even worth doing? This is more thought experiment than project proposal, but still.. I thought I’d throw the idea out there and see what you guys think.

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