Good Faith Collaboration (Part Two)

I enjoyed learning about collaborative culture definitions from the book. Henry Jenkins defines participatory culture as one in which there are low barriers of engagement, support for creation and sharing, and some form of mentorship or socialization, and members believe that their contributions matter and they “feel some degree of social connection with one another”.

I agree with the author that openness and incrementalism may not be enough to create good quality content. “Wikipedia must reconcile their vision with the inescapable social reality of irritating personalities, philosophical difference and external threats”. He notes that “goodwill is not always necessary to Wikipedia’s production”.

Clay Shirky said: “Wikipedia is the product not of collectivism but of unending argumentation; the corpus grows not from harmonious thought but from constant scrutiny and emendation”.

Einbinder writes in the introduction to his critique, “since encyclopedia is a mirror of contemporary learning, it offers a valuable opportunity to examine prevailing attitudes and beliefs in a variety of fields.” Indeed, problems both in community’s culture and its content are a representation of our society.

“Thomas Mann, a librarian, argues we would be better … (know of) the pathologies that infect social organisms (ex. short-sightedness, selfishness, and ignorance are constant factors in human life), rather than celebrating the unproven presumption that technology can cure all. Wikipedia is said to favor mediocrity over expertise”.

It goes even further with this caricature: “fanatical mob producing Wikipedia exhibits little wisdom and is more like a Maoist cult of monkeys banging away on the keyboards and thumb pads of their gadgets, disturbing the noble repose of scholars and displacing high-quality content from the market place”.

I would say that any criticism should be constructive. I have no doubt that technology is capable of curing a lot of social problems; it just needs to be redesigned so that people cultivate their best qualities while using it.

Ideally, contributors should become more tolerant and compassionate in the process of collaboration. Today Wikipedia volunteers are restricted to behave with civility, but do they truly feel compassion to those with opposing views? Surely, they have a sense of purpose and connection to others, but at times Wikipedia becomes a vanity project for those proving their personal significance at the expense of others.

Georg von Krogh, in his article on “Care in knowledge creation”, identifies five dimensions relevant to the successful creation of knowledge within a community: mutual trust, active empathy, access to help, lenience in judgment, and courage. Benkler and Nissenbaum argue that “commons-based peer-production” entails virtues that are both self-regarding” (ex. autonomy, independence, creativity) and ”other-regarding” (ex. generosity, altruism, camaraderie, cooperation, and civic virtue).

The author says that “the central concern seems to be how we can conceive of our humanity in working together and its implications”. His definition of good faith is “assuming the best of others, striving for patience, civility, and humor”, and Wikipedia is trying to act with it.

From 2004 Letter from the Founder: “None of us is perfect in these matters; such is the human condition. But each of us can try every day, in our editing, in our mailing posts, in our irc chats, and in our private emails, to reach for a higher standard than the Internet usually encourages, a standard of rational benevolence and love”.

Personally, I think that Wikipedia is a great invention and a great resource, but it is just the beginning of an even better model of gathering knowledge and resolving misunderstandings and conflicts. Let’s call it 1.0 version where people work together towards one great goal. It is a good start. Next version would align personal goals of the members with community’s goals, and help them rediscover and develop themselves in the process of compassionate creation.

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Good Faith Collaboration (Part One)

I recently finished reading Good Faith Collaboration book by Joseph Reagle. I was very curious about this book as not only it describes Wikipedia’s culture but also talks about its historical roots and contemporary criticism. Wikipedia is around for almost 11 years. So what is it?

First, there are actual Wikipedia pages and edits to them, as well as the meta pages documenting the policies and norms of Wikipedia itself. Second there is the talk/discussion page associated with each article. Third, there are mailing lists on which most abstract and difficult issues are often discussed. There are Wikipedia Signpost and Wikizine newsletter, other community forums such as popular “Village Pump”, and various Wikipedia related blogs, aggregators and podcasts. Fifth and finally, there are physical spaces in which some community members interact.

But mainly, Wikipedia is a snapshot of the community’s continuing conversation. Wikipedia culture encourages contributors to treat and think of others well, hence the name of the book. There are awards for best contributors like a “barnstar” (image placed on another’s user page to recognize merit). These awards are part of the Kindness Campaign and are meant to promote civility and WikiLove. There are more than 200 laws/norms by which Wikipedia contributors abide, including the guidelines of “Assume Good Faith” (AGF), “Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers” and “Neutral Point of View”.

This idea could be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century, in particular Paul Otlet’s Universal Repertory and H.G. Wells’s proposal for a World Brain. Wells proposed the reference work compilers would be joined by world scholars and international technocrats to produce a resource that every student might easily access, in a personal, inexpensive, and portable format. This collection of the world’s intellect was envisioned to yield a greater sense of unity: wells hoped that such an encyclopedia could solve the “jig-saw puzzle” of global problems by bringing all the “mental wealth of our world into something like a common understanding”; this would be more than an education al resource, it would be an institution of global mediation.

As Wells said, “Without a World Encyclopedia to hold men’s minds together in a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation to any of our world troubles.” I completely agree with the way Wells stated the problem. Additionally I question the transitory life cycle of one person’s knowledge. That knowledge must be reused even if the person is gone, as he/she may have insight into some solutions that are not easily generated, but the mankind desperately needs them.

One of the topics discussed in the book is who can really contribute. In Wikipedia’s predecessor Nupedia only educated and reasonable people were able to make final edits. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we often confuse formal school education and life experience, as one can be a PhD but uneducated in the matters of humanity. I am also not fond of the neutral point of view, as to be politically correct is not the same as being sincere and true. I would personally be more interested in hearing polar opinions to understand other people’s perspective and how they come to their conclusion. Only when people know of completely opposite opinions on the same topic then can they start a conversation to reconcile their differences. Having several versions of the most arguable topics is better than one bland version. Maybe views from the haters, the lovers and the neutrals. People need to learn Dalai Lama’s realistic approach, value every person’s input and become compassionate. Only then we will be able to understand our humanity.

It seems to me that the primary goal of Wikipedia is compiling knowledge, while finding compassion is somehow secondary.

I agree about verifiability policy that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth”. If the material has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true. Even when it comes to voting, majority has more power over minority. Majority usually represents the most convenient opinion of the culture it represents. There should be international SMEs participating or at least rating the content in terms of trust ability. Otherwise there will always be an issue of quality due to the lack of expertise and diversity.

Here we come to another problem I see here – how globally disconnected are different language Wikipedia sites from each other. Language barrier is still present in the Wikipedia structure, which leads both to duplicated efforts (when the same articles are written separately in different languages) and the lack of content in one language when it truly exists in another language. It would add diversity if articles from different languages were swapped and became international. We would create a better version of reality if people of all nations worked on the content together, not separately. During search, there should be instant translation of all related content from other languages.

Finally, it feels that Wikipedia is not a hub of innovative views limited by its “no original content” norm, which means inclusion of referenced work only. Wikipedia is a repetition of what others said. Most importantly, it results in the loss of individuality and creativity both for their contributors and readers.

Today contributors appear to be simply compilers and hunters for good content. They are assemblers, not the creators. Everyone should be able to speak up and come up with new knowledge and solutions to the world problems. Only then will Wells’ statement become reality: “Our world has complex and urgent problems that need to be addressed. We believe there are innovative ways for solving them together online.”

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