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Exploring A Million Penguins


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Presentation given at the end of an IOCT-funded project examining social behaviour in the "A Million Penguins" wiki novel.

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Exploring A Million Penguins

  1. A Million Penguins: Chaos and Order in a WikiNovel Bruce Mason Presented at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University 23 April 2008
  2. Background – “A Million Penguins” <ul><li>Collaboration between: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>De Montfort University via the MA in Creative Writing and New Media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Penguin Books </li></ul></ul><ul><li>To produce the world’s first “wikinovel.” </li></ul>
  3. Background - the original question
  4. Original research questions <ul><li>What was the role of the discussion around the writing? </li></ul><ul><li>What patterns of social behaviour occurred among the contributors? </li></ul>
  5. Emergent research questions <ul><li>Why does it seem to have been a considered a “failure” among commentators? (Implicit) </li></ul><ul><li>Does it challenge the “garden” metaphor? </li></ul>
  6. <ul><li>The stories behind the stories </li></ul><ul><li>The people behind the stories </li></ul><ul><li>Making sense of the end product </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Was there a community? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Did we end up with a novel? </li></ul></ul>Background - the research project
  7. Background - wiki? <ul><li>A wiki is computer software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages. </li></ul><ul><li>The best-known wiki is Wikipedia . </li></ul><ul><li>Wikipedia is run using MediaWiki. </li></ul><ul><li>So is “A Million Penguins.” </li></ul>
  8. Set up <ul><li>Required users to register in order to edit. </li></ul><ul><li>A team from DMU and Penguin Books actively moderated the content. </li></ul><ul><li>Contributors given free reign. </li></ul>
  9. Background – The first line
  10. Background – statistics <ul><li>In just 5 weeks </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nearly 1,500 registered for the site. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Over 11,000 edits. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>75,000 visitors to site. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>280,000+ page views. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Since then another 500,000+ page views </li></ul>
  11. Who were all these people and what did they do? <ul><li>The performer </li></ul><ul><li>The vandal </li></ul><ul><li>The gardener </li></ul>
  12. Case study 1 - Pabruce <ul><li>A performer </li></ul><ul><li>Most edits on wiki (1,780) </li></ul><ul><li>Edits in frequently viewed areas – most frequent contributor to Talk:Welcome </li></ul><ul><li>Focuses on adding content and linking it together </li></ul><ul><li>Foregrounds self </li></ul>
  13. Case Study 1 – Pabruce’s 1 st edit Before Pabruce’s edit I could feel it dancing across my skin: the electricity in the air made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I anticipated the roar of thunderous claps followed by the intense light show . Above, the storm had … My skin crawled as the strychnine kicked in and the acid slowly crept up my spine. Was I ready for eight more hours of this? Harold used to talk about making the grass grow into monsters, or the songs ice crystals made at midnight, but this was normal for me. As normal as anything could be. HA! I could feel it dancing across my skin. Electricity. The very air made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Now I had only to anticipate the roar of thunder that always followed the laser show. Above, the storm had…
  14. Pabruce’s user page (feb 8) <ul><li>My main contributions were: </li></ul><ul><li>to create the first list of Characters in Order of Appearance </li></ul><ul><li>to first create hyperlink on all the characters throughout the novel (at least at one point in time ... it is HARD to keep up!) </li></ul><ul><li>to create the list currently titled, Alternative Versions of the Novel. </li></ul><ul><li>I introduced strychnine to the novel and added the first hyperlink notes there. </li></ul>
  15. Pabruce – the performance <ul><li>February 13 – Pabruce leaves </li></ul><ul><li>Okay you win, I just deleted everything I can find that I edited into this novel. Going to my myspace page and entering a thinly veiled version of my real name INTO the novel is too weird. Get this, I am out of here. If you persist I will report you, it is too much like stalking </li></ul><ul><li>He came back a few days later… </li></ul>
  16. Case study 2 - YellowBanana <ul><li>A vandal – destruction through changing text </li></ul><ul><li>Type of performer </li></ul><ul><li>Foregrounds self </li></ul>
  17. YellowBanana’s first edit Before After You do not know me. &quot;My&quot; name is not attached it is born of a million syllables and floats like astronauts read on... My long-winded diatribe is over - if you still have the will to live, continue reading...
  18. YellowBanana destroying text Before After Hi everyone, my name is sentinel. Here are some principles I am trying to follow 1. as far as possible, try to keep other's work in the text and as intact as possible.. Hi everyone, my name is sentinel. Here are some principles I am trying to follow 1. as far as possible, try to insert the word 'smegma' into the text at random
  19. Banana-isation <ul><li>The banana was yellow and bent. He had expected it to be bent, for most banana were, but it was the way it was bent that was surprising. The banana was bent into the shape of male genitali. </li></ul>
  20. YellowBanana – Vandal, genius or troll? <ul><li>Only 166 edits – one of the least frequent of the frequent contributors </li></ul><ul><li>Edits inspired other forms of banana-isation. </li></ul><ul><li>Most frequently talked about contributor. </li></ul><ul><li>Effect on wiki novel out of proportion to frequency of contribution. </li></ul>
  21. Case Study 3 – Sentinel68 <ul><li>Second most frequent contributor (1,144 edits) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Gardener” – focused on organising and correcting </li></ul><ul><li>Made person to person edits in user pages – not public talk pages. </li></ul>
  22. Sentinel68’s first edit <ul><li>My first reading of the text of this fascinating project is there seems to be a heap of opening chapters and one or two ending chapters (or is that epilogues). I was thinking it might have been more helpful if, even allowing for twists and irony, that we could build upon each other's earlier chapters and take our cues from what the prior chapter has set up, rather than a heap of new &quot;jumping off points.&quot; I also wonder whether some of the names of characters could be changed to standardise a smaller cast, if that was possible I do not know at this stage. </li></ul>
  23. Sentinel68 working behind the scenes
  24. Sentinel68’s self identity <ul><li>I REPEAT, i have done some editing to and re-titling of chapters but basically have kept them in exactly the order that I have found them. Maybe others have moved things around, but I am just working with what i find here and as I said I have not deleted a whole section of someone else's work, and have tried to incorporate others works in some kind of flow </li></ul>
  25. Sentinel68 never quit <ul><li>Hi, I know the editing has now been closed, but if you editor guys at Penguin are still out there, can I suggest some minor corrections that have been bugging me. They don’t change anything substantial to the structure of the novel, they are just correcting two glaring errors. </li></ul><ul><li>namely….in the chapter on the main page called True story </li></ul><ul><li>(Main_Page#True_Story) </li></ul><ul><li>The statue of Mary Poppins is actually on the corner of Richmond and Kent Streets, Maryborough, Queensland. and not as printed here incorrectly as the corner of March and Kent. ( This is just a factual correction). </li></ul>
  26. Example of a “wiki gnome” at work Before After &quot;I think we should blown them to hell,&quot; you replied &quot;I think we should blow them to hell,&quot; you replied. &quot;Gladly,&quot; you say , as you eagerly swung around in your chair, pressed the red &quot;fire&quot; button, and watched as the Vangorn personnel carrier broke up in space, killing all 150 men aboard. &quot;Gladly,&quot; you said , as you eagerly swung around in your chair, pressed the red &quot;fire&quot; button, and watched as the Vangorn personnel carrier broke up in space, killing all 150 men aboard.
  27. People and places <ul><li>Three types of behaviour just shown. </li></ul><ul><li>But what kind of a ‘place’ was “A Million Penguins?” </li></ul>
  28. How green is my garden? <ul><li>Does the garden metaphor apply to “A Million Penguins?” </li></ul><ul><li>Is it an orderly garden, a wilderness or something else? </li></ul>
  29. The missing links <ul><li>Approx 650 pages with significant content </li></ul><ul><li>366 of them don’t contain any links (“dead end” pages), </li></ul><ul><li>150 pages do not have any other pages in the wiki linking to them (“orphans”). </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of wikification. </li></ul><ul><li>Presence of Walled Gardens. </li></ul>
  30. Sun Tzu’s Walled Garden <ul><li>N e w j o b : f i x M r . G l u c k ' s h a z y T V , P D Q ! </li></ul>
  31. Walled Gardens <ul><li>In wiki lore = bad. </li></ul><ul><li>In “A Million Penguins” = good. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In a way, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the wiki novel at the moment - the secret corners where people are making really interesting collaborative works. But is also throws up a dilemma - do we publicise these finds and risk seeing them damaged, or not? – Kate Pullinger </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Walled gardens equivalent to the Long Tail? </li></ul>
  32. 90-9-1 Penguins <ul><li>User participation in Internet discussions claimed to be: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>90% never contribute </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>9% contribute occasionally </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1% contribute a lot. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>In A Million Penguins </li></ul><ul><ul><li>55% never contributed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>40% contributed one or two times </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>5% contributed more than two times. </li></ul></ul>
  33. Did a community write the wiki novel?
  34. Amount of wiki edited by type of editor
  35. Putting it together
  36. Stages, crowds and lurkers <ul><li>In the crowd </li></ul><ul><ul><li>55% never contributed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>40% contributed once (mostly as gnomes) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Contributing 2-5 times (mostly in the crowd) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>4.5% </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Contributing 6+ times (mostly on stage) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>0.5% </li></ul></ul>
  37. A party in the park? <ul><li>“I'd liken it more to someone who threw an open party while their parents were away and is getting ready to clean up before they get home.” (DMU editor) </li></ul>
  38. A carnival of penguins <ul><li>“ gay, triumphant and at the same time mocking, deriding. It asserts and denies, it buries and revives. Such is the laughter of carnival,” (Mikhail Bakhtin 1968: 11-12). </li></ul>
  39. Carnival <ul><li>Bounded in time and space. </li></ul><ul><li>Reverses norms. </li></ul><ul><li>Celebrates excess and the grotesque. </li></ul>
  40. Two reversals <ul><li>Reversal of the normal rules of wiki. </li></ul><ul><li>Reversal of the normal rules of writing and publishing. </li></ul>
  41. The nature of the penguin <ul><li>It’s not a wiki nor is it a novel. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not “one” novel. (At least 6 plus 9 “choose your own…” stories.) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not collaborative. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Akin to oral folklore </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiple competing versions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Motifs and plot lines transmitted over time </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Relationship between performers and texts </li></ul></ul>
  42. The carnival <ul><li>Multiple stages </li></ul><ul><li>Competing performances </li></ul><ul><li>Anti-authoritarian </li></ul><ul><li>Reversing and subverting norms </li></ul><ul><li>A unique cultural text. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A performance which emerges from and between performances </li></ul></ul>
  43. An end <ul><li>This project was funded by the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University. </li></ul><ul><li>We wish to thank the Jeremy Ettinghausen and Kate Pullinger plus all the contributors who worked so hard on the wiki novel. </li></ul><ul><li>See the full report at http:// </li></ul>