How Social is Wikipedia?

On: October 23, 2007
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About Minke Kampman
I am a graduate of the MA New Media programme at the University of Amsterdam. I have a bachelor degree in Graphic Design from ArtEZ, Arnhem. We dislike referring to ourselves in the third person. .....continue_reading:.......................................................................................................... My_Website........................................................................................................................ LinkedIn............................................................................................................................. Loading Clusty Cloud ...


On the Wikipedia site itself, it does state ‘Wikipedia’ under the entry “Social Software“. But I was wondering about how social Wikipedia is in comparison with other social sites (for instance YouTube, MySpace, etc – see previous post). Because it doesn’t feel as a very sociable environment, unless perhaps when you’re incrowd (aka a Wikipedian). So what do other social sites have that Wiki does not and vice versa.


You can choose not to create an account, but then your IP is visible instead. But even when you make an account, it isn’t obligatory to make yourself known on Wikipedia. And many users choose not to. The part, that sets it aside from profiles on other social sites, is that there are is no question-ready-survey waiting for you. What’s your name, what kind of music do you like and how have you become a member on this site? Though apart from that, the profile does seem to have found a certain form in the so-called ‘userboxes’. Some of these you see returning on different pages, and some have customized their own. By the use of these ‘userboxes’ some profiles, or I should say ‘user pages’, tell a lot about the person behind it (see: Carterdriggs). The user pages I’ve come across, don’t tell any personal information (except for the picture on Joshbuddy). But it’s in some cases enough to give the profile a personality and see his/her motivations. What seems weird to me is that bots have user pages as well (see: Cydebot). Some of them quite extensively with Barnstars and all (see: CmdrObot), which to me seems quite pointless unless to thank the writer of the code.



Do Bots make Wikipedia different from the other social sites. Well, in a way they do, because the users know that the bots are out there. Seen the fact that they are trackable (userpage) and visibly mentioned in the history of the pages they change/maintain. On the other hand, there is no denying that there are some pieces of code on MySpace that help users get more friends. Or to help you automate the process of adding more friends. Not to mention all the sites that offer code to ‘pimp’ your profile. Some of them, like this site, sells its product with the tagline: “Start growing your MySpace Friends with the #1 MySpace Friend Adder Bot!” And there are probably more bots out there, but that is exactly what makes the difference: we don’t know behind what there is a bot or not. Makes you think twice next time you are accepting a new friend.


When someone is awarded a Barnstar, this also will be shown on the ‘profile page'(see for example user: Joshbuddy). These are given out by other users as a sign of appreciation. And could therefor be seen the same as the rating systems on sites like YouTube.


My Personal Tools are very revealing of how social Wikipedia really is(n’t). It is MY talk, they are MY preferences, it is MY watchlist and they are MY contributions. I have no friends to show for on Wikipedia. I’ve talked to a few and I’ve watched a few and one other user rewarded me with a Barnstar. But there is no list that states that I have 647 friends on MyWiki. It takes a Wikipedian to recognize who goes behind which name and who’s who. Wikipedian Rosenthal about this, in a New York Times article from januari, 2007 stating:

He associates certain user names with certain political biases, and he recalls an online dustup with someone called Slimvirgin over whether the Animal Liberation Front was a terrorist organization. Personalities can become so pronounced in these debates that some even achieve fame of a sort on snarky Wikipedia anti-fansites like Encyclopedia Dramatica, where Slimvirgin has been thoroughly pilloried. “It’s disgusting on one level,” Rosenthal said, “but it’s also funny how the encyclopedia has gotten to be more about the community behind it. And like any community, it has its drama. For people that don’t understand it and don’t have an inclination to get involved in it, it’s pretty daunting.”

And indeed, looking up Slimvirgin in the Encyclopedia Dramatica, not only is her ‘true identity’ revealed. But she’s being verbally vandalized for her whole person, not only for her actions as Slimvirgin. Patrick Byrne takes another approach at it, at, where he makes a difference between Slimvirgin and the person behind it (Linda Mack).

I can only imagine the same way as there are feuds between users and wikipedians and/or admins. There have also blossomed friendships. But this I only derive from the fact that actual meetups between wikipedians have been organized.


The meetups in real life are arranged on Wikipedia itself under here. A lot of other sites also calls them ‘meetup’s’, but that could also be due to the fact that they’ve been arranged by the site and not through the site itself, like Wikipedia does. In the context of YouTube, they are more often referred to as ‘gatherings’, emphasizing the social aspect of the happening.


Again I would like to refer to the New York Times article from januari, 2007. The hierarchy of Wikipedia is quite clear described here:

— a kind of rudimentary institutional hierarchy. Among the 4.6 million registered English-language users are about 1,200 administrators, whose “admin” status carries a few extra technical powers, most notably the power to block other users from the site, either temporarily or permanently. Those nominated for adminship must answer an initial series of five questions, after which other users have seven days to register their approval or disapproval. Above the admin level are the cheekily named “bureaucrats,” who are empowered to appoint the admins and will do so if they deem a user consensus has been reached (the magic number is somewhere around 70 percent approval). There is also a level above the bureaucrats, called stewards, of whom there are only about 30, appointed by the seven-person Wikimedia Foundation board of directors. The higher up you go in this chain of authority, the humbler the language they use to describe their status: they compare themselves frequently to janitors or, more tellingly, to monks. There is an unmistakably religious tone to this embrace of humility, this image of themselves as mere instruments of the needs and will of the greater community.

Now this is really something that sets Wikipedia apart. In this aspect, it is more of a community than lets say Flickr with its pro-accounts, or MySpace with their band-sites or YouTube with its produces-accounts. These names at Wikipedia are names that the user in one way or another, except for having to pay for it, has earned. And that comes with a certain power. I think this is more like a community, because is always a form of hierarchy in communities. And as the phrase goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” In this case it would be: “It takes a city to maintain Wikipedia.” And so it has, so it has already.


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