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Wikipedia as a new media institution: Issues of diversity, regulation
and sustainability in an open encyclopaedia
Kim Osma...
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WikiSym Poster


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PhD research poster presented at WikiSym & OpenSym 2013.

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WikiSym Poster

  1. 1. Wikipedia as a new media institution: Issues of diversity, regulation and sustainability in an open encyclopaedia Kim Osman │ PhD Candidate │ ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation│ Queensland University of Technology Abstract Research Problem Wikipedia is an important institution and part of the new media landscape having evolved from the collaborative efforts of millions of distributed users. This ongoing doctoral research examines how the issues that have been highlighted by conflict within the community have shaped the evolution of Wikipedia from an open wiki experiment to a global knowledge producer. Bringing together the concepts of interpretive flexibility and generative friction with existing theories on the evolution of institutions, the research aims to present possible futures for Wikipedia as part of not only the larger Wikimedia movement, but of an open and accessible web. Wikipedia appears to be facing the danger that it has become so rule-bound and entrenched in its processes and the enforcement of policies and guidelines that it has become increasingly difficult for the community to respond reflexively to changes. Evidently it is also facing challenges in creating a culture that attracts and retains new editors to ensure its viability as an open and collaboratively produced encyclopaedia. Indeed, there is a popular perception that the multitude of rules and policies that the Wikipedia community has created in order to coordinate the contributions of its globally distributed volunteers has created a culture that is difficult for new editors to navigate and is hostile to existing editors who deviate from the community’s strictly enforced norms. Consequently it has recently been the subject of debate about its future as it struggles to recruit and retain active editors. Theoretical Framework Interpretive flexibility Generative friction Institutionalism Expected contributions Controversies The research is expected to contribute to growing scholarship in digital media theory and adds to comprehensive quantitative analysis of online collaboration by presenting a theoretical and historical understanding of online communities. It will provide and alternate perspective from existing utopian/dystopian accounts of the internet, contribute to our understanding of how online platforms experience change, and how open communities have evolved and are institutionalised. Using ‘controversy’ as a heuristic device and historiography as a method, I will use the concept of controversy to bring together STS and institutionalism – where a controversy highlights the issues important to the community and opens the black box (STS), renegotiates, and moves things forward (institutionalism). I will be conducting a historical discourse analysis of selected events in Wikipedia’s history (for example paid editing, the perceived participation crisis) to see how conversations contribute to the construction of Wikipedia by a variety of actors in the sociotechnical system. Commercialisation Beyond Versions Wikipedia too often gets conflated with commercial platforms in narratives about Web 2.0. This research will provide a critique of these dominant discourses on mass collaboration, usergenerated content and online participation. It will move past the idea of internet histories as versions, and instead investigate the history Wikipedia from its early DIY and counter-culture roots, to its possible futures as an open and nonprofit institution. From early Listserv musings on advertising by the project’s founders to recent press about the involvement of BP employees in the editorial process of BP-related articles, the tension between the free and the proprietary has always been present in the encyclopaedia. It is useful therefore to examine knowledge as a common resource and the relationship this has with Wikipedia’s construction and sustainability. By applying theories from economics around commons management, we can begin to see how ideology and a commitment to norms and ideals has shaped Wikipedia and influenced its sustainability as a non-profit platform. Diversity Current discourse suggests that the creation and enforcement of rules and norms are creating barriers to entry for new users. For it is not the case that the open hacker ethos that created Wikipedia precludes it from being subject to processes of institutionalism – it is not an either/or scenario. Initial research shows that the process of creating rules by the Wikipedia community, both for content production and community behaviour, reflect the processes of institutionalisation in traditional organisations. As found in the 2011 editor survey by the Wikimedia Foundation, and the more recent controversy around #categorygate, a significant gender disparity exists in Wikipedia’s editorial base. Initial research suggests that the uneven demographics of editors contributes to how Wikipedia is perceived, both as a space for volunteering and creating content, and as a site of legitimate encyclopaedic knowledge. Further research in this area will consider the role of conflict in relation to participation, and how claims about the democratising potential of the internet have played out in reality. free as in speech AND as in beer Future Work I am in the process of gathering mainstream press accounts of controversies in Wikipedia’s history and from these I will choose specific controversies to trace. I will also identify key participants in the controversies, who will be approached to conduct interviews with to both ground and feedback on my research. It is estimated that this stage of data collection will occur late 2013 to early 2014. I will also evaluate Wikipedia’s strategies for increasing participation in light of popular press coverage, and draw lessons about how diversity and inclusivity play out in open communities online. I will continue to engage with scholarship on Wikipedia, internet histories, institutions and literature from sociotechnical studies to write this history. I estimate that my thesis will be completed by the end of 2014. If one wants to make the case for nonprofit institutional structures, the internet is a valuable rhetorical tool, a starting point for discussion, if not an ending point. CC BY SA Contact @kimosman Regulation CC BY SA London Student Feminists Supervised by Principal Supervisor: Associate Professor Jean Burgess, Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, QUT Associate Supervisor: Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, QUT Thomas Streeter, 2011: The Net Effect. New York: New York University Press