Social Media Lecture 6 Wikipedia and knowledge management


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This lecture is part of a t course on social media at the University of Winchester. It examines wikipedia and the idea of knowledge management. It looks at the underlying rationality of collaborative knowledge creation and some of the critical issues such as whether crowds are better than experts and what kinds of knoiwledge management wikipedia is actually good for.

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Social Media Lecture 6 Wikipedia and knowledge management

  1. 1. Lecture 6 Wikis and knowledge management
  2. 2. Introduction  Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia.  The entries are compiled by users anyone can edit wikipedia.  Consequently it tends to be a site with lots of debate going on in the preparation of the articles.  A number of authors contend that as well as being a platform on which debate occurs, Wikipedia is a cause of debate.  Wikipedia has caused a lot of controversy and debate.  There is a distinct discourse about Wikipedia with defined sides.  In this lecture we will:  Look at what wikipedia is supposed to be;  Look at the underlying logic/philosophy;  Look at the challenge and critique of this;
  3. 3. What wikipedia is…  Launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.  Currently (24/2/14) 4,459,245 articles.  Created / edited by 20,802,380 Wikipedians.  World’s 6th most visited website.  Probably best example of ‘crowdsourcing’: something made for users by users.  Funded by donation – handled by Wikimedia.  Builds on a software model called ‘open source’ where people can improve on computer code them selves – opposite to proprietary software where people hide their innovation.
  4. 4. What it is supposed to be…  “Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia: It combines many features of general and specialized encyclopaedias, almanacs, and gazetteers. Wikipedia is not a soapbox, an advertising platform, a vanity press, an experiment in anarchy or democracy, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory. It is not a dictionary, a newspaper, or a collection of source documents, although some of its fellow Wikimedia projects are.”  Based on 5 principles (of which the above is the first)
  5. 5. 5 Principles  Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia;  Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view;  Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute;  Editors should treat each other with respect and civility;  Wikipedia does not have firm rules.
  6. 6. The idea of wikipedia  Aside of the principles, as a piece of media Wikipedia can be said to be the application of web 2.0 to the issue of knowledge management.  Knowledge management relates to a number of questions about information in the contemporary world.
  7. 7. Questions of our age: Where does knowledge come from?  Issues of knowledge  Who are the holders of knowledge?  Who guards it, preserves it and edits it?  Where do we go to find out information?  Who can we trust?  These are fundamentally questions of knowledge management.  In traditional society it was the ‘priestly’ class.  In modernity it was the ‘expert’ class.  In post modern times we have a new candidate.
  8. 8. What’s best, an expert or a crowd?  Wikipedia is based upon a fundamental assertion that sometimes a crowd of non- experts is better than a small number of experts.  However historical arrangements for the management of knowledge argue the opposite, that an expert is better than a crowd.  A few exceptions – democratic politics (even then experts employed to advise), popular taste (made by experts though).  How did we get here?
  9. 9. History of western thought  European intellectual life went through a big transition in the C18th / C19th century.  The Enlightenment.  The establishment of science, emphasis on reason (rather than trust in tradition), development of scientific method for knowing about the world.  A quest for knowledge.
  10. 10. Application of method  Knowledge comes about though the application of a method.  This is best done by an expert, someone trained to do it.  Normal people cannot follow the rigours of doing this so we have experts to do it.  Like academics and scientists.
  11. 11. The democratic challenge  Wikipedia is (was) part of a movement that challenged the legitimacy of the expert.  The argument is that collectively people are clever.  While we may be stupid individually, when we collectivise we are more clever than the sum of the parts.  As a society stupid people are more than compensated for by clever people.  ?
  12. 12. Francis Galton  Darwin’s half cousin.  Discovered/invented many advances in science (statistics, finger prints).  Tried to apply Darwin’s theories to humans.  Elitist – believed in breeding an elite class, not agreeable to democracy.  A eugenicist (hierarchy of the human races and social classes).
  13. 13. Frankie goes to market…  In 1906 he went to the “West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition” in Plymouth.  He came across a “Guess the weight of an Ox” competition.  About 800 entries.  He proposed that “The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the… weight of the ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues”.  IE not very, and they would be wrong (and accordingly so would their vote be for the wrong person).
  14. 14. Test  To test his theory he collected all the tickets at the end and calculated the average.  There were 787 tickets (excluding ones he could not read).  He added them together and calculated the Median and (arithmetic) Mean Estimated weight.  The Median was 1207 pounds.  The Mean was 1197 pounds.  He then checked the weight of the ox.
  15. 15. Oh.  It weighed 1198 pounds.  The average guess was one pound off – less than 0.1% wrong.  How?  Individually the guesses were very mixed but collectively they were virtually exactly right.  The good cancelled out the bad and as there were more good guesses than bad the result is nearly correct.  The good ‘steers’ the result (did you see what I did there? the pun? ‘steers’?? – I am wasted as a lecturer, wasted).
  16. 16. Metaphor  It is a good metaphor but the story is not completely appropriate to wikipedia because that was an ‘undirected crowd’.  Wikipedia is a directed, ordered crowd.  Many people trying to contribute to knowledge incrementally.  Even better than just guessing, they are working to a set of principles to provide the best knowledge available.  They seek to continually refine the knowledge.
  17. 17. The wisdom of crowds and others  During 2000s lots of optimistic books and articles published about the power of crowds and why collaboration is a great thing.  Moreover, collaborative activity is popular in many areas.
  18. 18. The big idea  Within these texts is the idea that by using the connective power of social media we can work on collaborative projects.  In doing so we will ‘open up’ knowledge so that anyone who is interested can contribute and engage.  There will be lots of arguments.  So we need structures to make this civil.  But these arguments will lead to better knowledge as rationality will win out – echoes of Habermas.  This will be better knowledge than that of self appointed experts.
  19. 19. Institutionalisation  Since its founding Wikipedia has developed quite rigorous systems and is now firmly institutionalised (not monetized though).  Now control processes – human and computer – that filter out malicious and problematic comment.  No longer a popularity contest but a ‘staged’ model of contribution.
  20. 20. Criticism  The optimism was met by a lot of negative criticism of Wikipedia and collaboration.  This negative approach has three main points:  Credibility is derived from expertise;  Experts are good;  Be warned of the ‘hive mind’;
  21. 21. Credibility is derived from expertise  Academic knowledge is accepted as being of higher value than other forms of knowledge as it is produced by experts who follow a process, understand that process and will be able to discern when that process is not followed – hence peer review.  Contrarily, democratic / wiki knowledge is legitimated not by expertise but by verisimilitude or by popular acceptance.  Citizen journalism = good!  Citizen dentistry = hold on a minute…
  22. 22. Experts are good as they make new knowledge  Wikipedia disseminates existing knowledge, it rearticulates and redrafts previously published material.  It is an echo chamber – it ‘churns’.  But it does not engage in the production of knowledge or research that is valid.  It does not raise the standard of knowledge -how much we know of a topic.  Just changes where that knowledge is stored.  This might be good but it might also damage / pollute the process of knowledge production.  It becomes harder to see the good for the bad when so many are making it.
  23. 23. Be warned of the ‘hive mind’ and the sleep of reason  Western scholarship has a strong tradition of individualism – learning to be an expert and then having a reputation and therefore accountability.  Collaborative knowledge is about disappearing into knowledge – of no one having responsibility for knowledge and of all being party to a position with no-one accountable for that position.  Problems of group think smothering individual challenge and creativity – what some call Digital Maoism – all agreeing to the popular position. Francisco Goya El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1797)
  24. 24. Conclusion  A combative field.  Some argue that it that the debate is not just about Wikipedia but about the wider issue of changes in social life of late modernity.  The old guard resisting the new.  Others say it is actually about conflating technology for practice – you need good knowledge on new technology just as it was needed in books – good online material still needs all the processes of old.