Wikipedia – Anyone can edit? Actually, no.

On: September 24, 2009
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About Gwen Keupe
Gwen Keupe is a New Media Master student at the University of Amsterdam. She graduated her Bachelors degree with a thesis titled 'One Million Strong for Barack - Openness and involvement through online deliberation'. Her research interests lie within online social networks and the way people use them to accomplish real things offline.

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http://gwenkeupe.blogspot.com    

On the mainpage of Wikipedia.org you can read, “Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”. I would like to contest this. I am anybody and I was not able to make a Wiki. What happened, you might ask.

For some part, I really don’t know. Apparently I did just about everything wrong. Although I consider myself quit capable on the internet, on Wikipedia I am probably the biggest “n00b” ever. After creating my Wiki – account, I tried to enter a piece about “De Stichting Morekop”, a fictional foundation created by the comical Dutch duo Kees van Kooten and Wim de Bie (Van Kooten en De Bie).

After searching through Wikipedia, I found several lemmas about ‘Van Kooten en de Bie’ that mentioned ‘De Stichting Morekop’ and even a Wiki about one of the founders of the foundation named Koos Koets (played by Kees van Kooten). Therefore I was quit excited about my lemma, it had not yet been posted on Wikipedia and being a big fan of ‘Van Kooten en De Bie’ I thought I could really contribute something to the free encyclopedia (that anyone can edit).

However my Wiki was removed within just a few minutes and I was suggested that I should first play in the Wikipedia “sandbox”. I could not figure out what had happened and I could not retrieve my post (it turned out to be deleted). This fact alone cost me two hours. After that, I tried to post my lemma again and got a warning that my I.P. adress would be blocked if I continued on with posting these inferior types of lemmas. That was just about enough for me to end my Wikipedia endeavor.

The whole experience lead me to think about what kind of people contribute to Wikipedia and why they put so much effort in contributing to Wikipedia as the posts are anonymous.

To start answering the first question, one must think about the technological implications of the free encyclopedia. Writing a Wiki implies some sort of technological expertise as one must enter different kinds of code which are called Wikitexts or Wiki – markups. This fact allone (as there are many more technological thresholds that a Wikipedia contributor will come acorss) implies that a lot of people, like myself, will never end up posting a Wiki, although having a lot of knowledge about a particular subject. And, in my personal opinion, Wikipedia does not encourage the less technological keen contributors to finish their Wiki. Wikipedia immediately accuses the contributor of “messing about” on Wikipedia and suggests them to first continue their “messing about” in the Wikipedia “sandbox”. I experienced that as very condescending.

To start answering the second question, why people put so much effort in contributing to Wikipedia while staying anonymous, is two folded. Contributing to social network site like Wikipedia always implies some sort of exhibitionistic and voyeuristic practices that fulfill the users needs and therefore encourage the user to (keep) participating. On Wikipedia however, the exhibitionistic part is not there for the users that aren’t technological keen.

For the technologically keen, contributing to Wikipedia can eventually become some what less anonymous and therefore perhaps more gratifying as they can be voted to be moderators (which is based on the quality of their postings). Although, research shows that the Wikis on Wikipedia are often placed anonymous. This implies that people get their gratifications from something else. For example self – expression or self – actualization, enabled by easy to use software (for some) where users can take control. Another example could be feeling connected to a scientific community.

But for the Wikipedia – wannabees like myself, there is just nothing that encourages you to take part and edit. You are discouraged from the start and although there is help offered, this is all in the form of a Wiki – page, which for me personally meant that I almost edited the Wiki – tutorial page.

Taking this all into account, I would therefore suggest asking a different kind of question when it comes to Wikipedia and why people want to take part in editing the free encyclopedia. As the question should be, how can Wikipedia be made more user – friendly, giving everybody a chance to participate in the encyclopedia and making it more inviting to participate. Not by lowering the standards of the Wiki – pages, but by making it more accessible for those who are not technologically keen. And adding to this new form of accessibility, one should start questioning the role of the Wikipedia moderators, as they seem to have so much power over what kind of Wiki’s get posted, making the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit in an encyclopedia for the technological keen as opposed to an encyclopedia of  the plainly keen.

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