Tuesday, January 06, 2015
I was intrigued by Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia by Dariusz Jemielniak. How does this all volunteer project do it?
Wikipedia's process-oriented systems enable Wikipedians to achieve enormous scale: Jemielniak reports that Wikipedia exceeds 20 million articles in 270 languages. All this is community-written and -edited. It is also all free and mostly accurate.
Having worked my way through this small volume, I mostly learned that the last thing I'd like to do is engage with the Wikipedia community of dedicated volunteer editors. Why would I want to enter into a large group of quarrelsome, nit-picking (mostly) male intellectual combatants who achieve consensus by exhausting their opponents? This doesn't sound fun; will there always be an adequate supply of the sort of individuals who want to venture into an environment of this cast? Or will Wikipedia have to change its culture to continue to attract enough variety of volunteers to keep the project going? For all its success, Jemielniak's account makes me wonder.
This well-documented ethnography is not light reading but I found it worth grinding through: Wikipedia is one of the largest and most successful cooperative endeavors the world has ever seen. How it works should matter in this combative world.