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.

15 Responses to “Ask-the-Masters: Can we use Wikipedia to map emergent issues?”
  • October 6, 2006 at 11:26 am

    Sounds like a very interesting idea, and this would mean that Wikipedia is the research subject and not the source of other information. It’s like studying how the library functions (what books go out more often?), and not the content of the books.

    Although a lot of things in Wikipedia can be checked by version history, there is also a lot of discussion (overleg) going on that seem to provide the balance in the information. If I get your idea correct, maybe that is also something to take in account.

    But I’m still waiting for Wikipedia to become an all out warzone. Left vs Right in an all out information war with Wikipedia as the trenches. The whole thing just seems… well… to perfect.

    Anyway, that’s just me rambling, interesting stuff!

  • October 6, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    The proposal (experiment if you will) sounds really interesting, but I doubt if Wikipedia would be the best object of study. I don’t think Wikipedia is that up-to-date to make it suitable to map emergent issues. Personally I’d take Technorati as an object of study, because I think it reflects the ‘Live Web’ better. What do you think?

  • October 6, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    I think wikipedia, in some cases, is already a Right vs. Left warzone. And the heat of a debate also has an effect on the speed with which Wikipedia changes.
    It doesn’t get updated as fast as Technorati, but I’m not sure there’s a big difference: for example, the entry on Mark Foley was updated just under a 100 times the day the scandal broke, compared with under 20 for the previous three months. I think that is pretty live web.

    What I think I meant with tracking ’emergent issues’ was not so much the scandal itself (tracking the latest events is definitely easier on technorati) but relationships the scandal has with other things. So for example how does the scandal ‘remediate’ perceptions of related actors (Dennis Hastert, the Congressional Page System, etc.)

    Maybe it still isn’t clear, not even for me. oh well :)

  • October 8, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    Sounds an interesting experiment to me as well. Allthough the network may be hard to completely uncover if not all altered subjects have been interlinked.

  • October 9, 2006 at 11:56 am

    You mean if the other entries of related actors are suddenly being updated/edited as well? Nice. This sounds like something that should actually be studied.

  • October 9, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    Yeah that is what I mean… it’s hard to see ALL entries that are altered because of this news event, if they aren’t linked…

  • October 10, 2006 at 9:27 am

    But changes are pretty high that they are linked on Wikipedia. Pretty much every keyword is linked on Wikipedia. It would “just” require some good software (IssueCrawler?) to map it out in time and “space” (to use a nice Web metaphor).

  • October 10, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    right. it sounds like the idea came across. maybe when we start the new media seminar with richard we can ask him about the possibility of this being done with the issuecrawler.

  • October 10, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Speaking of the Web as a space metaphor: Wow, look at those t-shirts. The elderly have “cursist” on their back and the young people have “docent” on their back ;)

  • October 11, 2006 at 8:34 am

    wow, what a picture. we should make a caption contest out of it.

    student: But who are all these nice people sending me emails about the stock market? joey2000 seems nice enough..

    teacher: ?

  • October 11, 2006 at 10:59 am

    But why do older people often look at the computer with a tilted head?

  • October 11, 2006 at 11:06 am

    It’s all those animated gifs ;)

  • October 11, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Or smileys which don’t get converted into graphics : )

  • October 11, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Heheh, oR tHur iS sum1 tYpn l1K3 tH1S

    (hmm we’re going offtopic I think..)

  • October 31, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    This might be an interesting tool to check out. It has similarities with your proposal, but also some differences. I think using the issue crawler would probably be a useful tool to focus more on the network side of related issues/persons etc.

    History Flow is a tool for visualizing dynamic, evolving documents and the interactions of multiple collaborating authors. In its current implementation, history flow is being used to visualize the evolutionary history of wiki* pages on Wikipedia.

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