Assessing Wikipedia 1: Introduction

We've recently been researching Wikipedia, looking into the way its community works and discovering the good and bad aspects of "The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Much has been written about Wikipedia: some positive, some negative, but little of it does more than scratch the surface of the collaborative aspects.

This is the first in a series of posts, which outline our thoughts. It's a quick introduction.

Wikipedia is the brainchild of Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. In 2000 Wales and Sanger became frustrated with their project for a free encyclopedia, known as Nupedia -- the process of writing encyclopedia articles by engaging subject matter experts to contribute and perform peer review was far slower than they had hoped.

Both of them had separately discovered wikis and they realized that it might be possible to open up the article development process. It's an attractive idea. We're also big fans of wikis, to help teams collaborate on documents. Much like Wikipedia, these very bulletins and weblog posts are authored, submitted, edited, queued, and published using Ferris Research's own wiki. We manage the workflow with a lightweight process defined and refined "on the fly" and itself published on the wiki.

Almost seven years later, there are around two million articles in the English language version of Wikipedia. They are, of course, at varying levels of quality -- some very good and some worryingly poor -- and varying levels of importance -- some cover serious academic subjects, and some describe pop culture fandom.

In subsequent bulletins, we'll cover topics such as:

  • Accuracy and vandalism
  • Consensus and disputes
  • Contributor anonymity
  • Spam and conflicts of interest
  • Community dynamics and Wikipedia culture
  • Technical wiki issues

... Richi Jennings

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