Wiki Communities in the Era of Cultural Individuation


“Essentially, Wikipedia provides an example of poststructuralist principles operating online—an idea impressively illustrated by the “history flow visualizations” of Wikipedia article revisions generated by Fernando B. Viegas, Martin Wattenberg, and Kushal Dave. The original analysis of Wikipedia article evolution by the team “revealed complex patterns of cooperation and conflict” (575). These stem from the community-enabling editing capabilities built-in to the “Talk” and “History” article pages, as well as the “Watch List” option available to registered users providing an alert system for vigilant writer/editors to defend the integrity of specific articles. The goal of these discursive provisions is informal oversight of content, which can be subject to “malicious editing” —one of the strongest criticisms against Wikipedia. The history flow visualizations mapped three categories of wiki article revisions: 1) editing of content on average, 2) a malicious mass deletion of content, and 3) a mass deletion replaced by obscene content. The median survival time of the first category was 90.4 minutes, which broke down to 21% of edits reducing page size, 6% reducing it by only 50 characters—such numbers primarily indicating tightened prose and the elimination of irrelevant information (579, 581). Of course this dynamism is what makes citing Wikipedia problematic. This downside—most apparent when trying to perceive Wikipedia in the vein of a traditional encyclopedia—is balanced by the fact that new content is quickly and easily added to articles as events unfold. For instance, the study refers to how within a week of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 an entry devoted to the topic was written, and had even tripled in size in a few subsequent weeks (581). The fast-responding character of the Wikipedia user community also catches and repairs mass deletions at a median delay of 2.8 minutes—1.7 minutes for those involving obscenities (579). The data produced indicates, to at least those versed in poststructuralist insights on language, that Wikipedia’s neoteric authorial/editorial community is attempting to maximize the radical functionality/medium of wiki technology—publishing, editing, and re-publishing content (with self-governing oversight) at a frequency unimaginable in other media.”

Cited: Viegas, F, Wattenberg, M, Dave, K. 2004. ‘Studying Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with History Flow Visualizations.’ Conference on Human Factors in Computing, Vienna, April 24–29.