Good Faith Collaboration

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

Joseph Michael Reagle
Foreword by Lawrence Lessig
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Good Faith Collaboration
    Book Description:

    Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is built by a community--a community of Wikipedians who are expected to "assume good faith" when interacting with one another. In Good Faith Collaboration, Joseph Reagle examines this unique collaborative culture. Wikipedia, says Reagle, is not the first effort to create a freely shared, universal encyclopedia; its early twentieth-century ancestors include Paul Otlet's Universal Repository and H. G. Wells's proposal for a World Brain. Both these projects, like Wikipedia, were fuelled by new technology--which at the time included index cards and microfilm. What distinguishes Wikipedia from these and other more recent ventures is Wikipedia's good-faith collaborative culture, as seen not only in the writing and editing of articles but also in their discussion pages and edit histories. Keeping an open perspective on both knowledge claims and other contributors, Reagle argues, creates an extraordinary collaborative potential. Wikipedia's style of collaborative production has been imitated, analyzed, and satirized. Despite the social unease over its implications for individual autonomy, institutional authority, and the character (and quality) of cultural products, Wikipedia's good-faith collaborative culture has brought us closer than ever to a realization of the century-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28971-9
    Subjects: Technology, Library Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Lawrence Lessig

    There is value in studying anything that was once thought impossible but then proves possible. There is significant value in studying it well. A decade ago, no one—including its founder, Jimmy Wales—would have imagined “Wikipedia” possible. Today it is one of the very top Web sites on the Internet. And not just the Internet: Wikipedia has come to define the very best in an ethic of a different kind of economy or community: at its core, it is a “collaborative community” that freely and voluntarily gives to the world a constant invitation to understand and correct. More than...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. 1 Nazis and Norms
    (pp. 1-16)

    Wikipedia is not merely an online multilingual encyclopedia; although the Web site is useful, popular, and permits nearly anyone to contribute, the site is only the most visible artifact of an active community. Unlike previous reference works that stand on library shelves distanced from the institutions, people, and discussions from which they arose, Wikipedia is both a community and an encyclopedia. And the encyclopedia, at any moment in time, is simply a snapshot of the community’s continuing conversation. This conversation is frequently exasperating, often humorous, and occasionally profound. Most importantly, it sometimes reveals what I call agood faithcollaborative...

  6. 2 The Pursuit of the Universal Encyclopedia
    (pp. 17-44)

    In March 2000 Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia and its Nupedia progenitor, sent his first message to the Nupedia email list: “My dream is that someday this encyclopedia will be available for just the cost of printing to schoolhouses across the world, including ‘3rd world’ countries that won’t be able to afford widespread internet access for years. How many African villages can afford a set of Britannicas? I suppose not many. . . .”¹ In this statement one can find a particular type of Enlightenment aspiration: auniversalencyclopedic vision of increased information access and goodwill. Richard Schwab, a scholar...

  7. 3 Good Faith Collaboration
    (pp. 45-72)

    There are two complementary postures at the heart of Wikipedia collaboration: the stances of “Neutral Point of View” (NPOV) and good faith. Whereas other communities may have a culture of good faith (i.e., assume good faith on the part of others, and act with patience, civility, and humor), few are concerned with producing an encyclopedia. The dovetailing of an open perspective on knowledge claims (epistemic) and other contributors (intersubjective) makes for extraordinary collaborative potential, and harkens back to the universal vision of increased access to information and social accord. Furthermore, perhaps an understanding of neutrality and good faith can serve...

  8. 4 The Puzzle of Openness
    (pp. 73-96)

    A central aspiration in the pursuit of a universal encyclopedia is increased access to information: an opening of opportunity and capability to anyone with a desire to learn. Ironically, such an encyclopedia only became possible with universal access to its production. However, Wikipedia’s openness, based on the inspiration of the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement and the capabilities of hypertext, is not a collaborative panacea. The two, at odds, “laws” of Wikipedia that begin this chapter are evidence that openness has advantages and disadvantages—and people don’t even agree about which is which. (Since neither law is funny,...

  9. 5 The Challenges of Consensus
    (pp. 97-116)

    H. G. Wells thought the “World Encyclopedia” should be more than an information repository, it should also be an institution of “adjustment and adjudication; a clearinghouse of misunderstandings.”¹ Wikipedia certainly has its share of misunderstandings, some imported from the conflicted world it documents and some unique to its own undertaking. An example of a contagious real-world conflict is the “Creation-Evolution Controversy,”² discussed in chapter 3. Also, political and ethnic differences are often mirrored at Wikipedia, prompting the formation of a “Working Group on Ethnic and Cultural Edit Wars.”³ There are also plenty of local “misunderstandings,” such as whether every episode...

  10. 6 The Benevolent Dictator
    (pp. 117-136)

    Open, civil, egalitarian, deliberative: these are some of the concepts encountered in the pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. While they might seem simple enough in the abstract, they become much less so when used in the practice and discourse of a community. For instance, a perfectly “open” community will likely be chaotic, rendering it inhospitable to many. Or, if consensus doesn’t require unanimity, agreement—unanimous or otherwise—on what it does require can be elusive. Some of the sources and ironies of the English Wikipedia’s collaborative culture are further highlighted when one considers the role and status of leadership. Wikipedia,...

  11. 7 Encyclopedic Anxiety
    (pp. 137-168)

    Wikipedia, and the collaborative way in which it is produced, is at the center of a heated debate. Much as reference works might inspire passionate dedication in their contributors, they also, seemingly, can inspire passionate disparagement. In 2004 Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association, wrote an op-ed criticizing Google and its book-scanning project; he was surprised by the negative online response to his piece, but this only prompted him to redouble his attack a few years later. In 2007 he focused on blogs and Wikipedia, decrying the effects of the “digital tsunami” on learning. In a blog...

  12. 8 Conclusion: “A Globe in Accord”
    (pp. 169-174)

    At Wikimania 2007, a gathering of Wikimedia contributors in Taipei, one of the free gifts received during registration was a spherical puzzle. Like any other jigsaw, the pieces must be fit together, but in this case they form a globe much like the one seen near the top of every Wikipedia article. The Wikipedia logo is that of an incomplete world of characters, each piece representing a different language. In discussing Wikipedia’s culture, I use the metaphor of a puzzle to explain the ways in which neutral point of view and good faith complement each other in the collaborative production...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-244)