Talk:Future of Wikipedia

From Cyberlaw: Difficult Issues Winter 2010
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Meta info:

We welcome external participation in our wiki. We are already grateful for the contributions people have been doing especially in the sorts of problems Wikipedia is facing. We have been reading some of the comments some people are making about our course and we would like to have everybody's help giving feedback on some of the ideas we had to address the problems listed.

Our first challenge is to pick a manageable set of problems to work. If we don't focus we run the risk of not achieving anything by trying to solve too many issues. Tonight and tomorrow we'll be posting our ideas of what issues we'd like to tackle and what the potential solutions would look like. Your feedback here would be more than welcome.

Final list of Problems for the Group

We'll focus on these two problems:

  • Quality and reliability of content (e.g. factual errors on Wikipedia lowers the reliability and credibility of its content)
  • Wikipedia's editor base is decreasing (existing editors are losing interest and it is difficult to recruit new editors)

These are legal problems??? Jon Awbrey 18:46, 20 January 2010 (UTC)

The aim of the course was never to tackle only legal problems. On the contrary, we were always stimulated to address general problems regardless of their field. I realize this was not clear for outside participants, because a lot of this was discussed in class and not on the wiki. Brunomagrani 04:49, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Yes, I think that many of us outside observers understood "cyberlaw" in a very broad sense, something like "the impact of distributive information technology on society", but — again, purely from a distance — it seemed that most of the activity revolved around "patches for apps", that is, more cyber than law. Jon Awbrey 05:04, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Background on Wikipedia

Wikipedia was formally launched on January 15, 2001, by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.[1] It represented a new development in the collaborative, web-based creation of bodies of knowledge. Initially it was a complement to the expert-written encyclopedia project “Nupedia,”[2] in order to provide an additional source of articles. Wikipedia soon outpaced Nupedia and grew to be arguably the most successful example of collaborative content creation. Today Wikipedia boasts that it contains several million articles and pages in hundreds of languages worldwide contributed by millions of users.

Wikipedia is arguably the most successful online collaboration but it is not the first. One early predecessor was Interpedia, initiated in 1993,[3] although the project never fully left the planning stages.[4] Free Software Foundation’s Richard Stallman described the need for a free universal encyclopedia in 1999, although the Free Software Foundation didn’t launch its GNUPedia to compete with Nupedia until January 17, 2001, two days after the start of Wikipedia.[5] And Wikipedia itself grew out of Nupedia, an online collaborative encyclopedia. On January 10, 2001, Wales and Sanger created the first Nupedia wiki, but reputedly Nupedia’s expert volunteers did not want to participate, so Wikipedia was established as a separate site.[1] Wikipedia’s vision: Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.[6]

Growth of Wikipedia

The growth of Wikipedia depended on the contribution of numerous lay users, a departure from the Nupedia tradition of using expert contributors. Nupedia was founded upon the use of highly qualified expert contributors and a multi-step peer review process, but despite its interested editors, the process was slow, and only 12 articles were written in the first year.[7] Wikipedia, in contrast, generated over 1,000 articles in its first month of operation and over 20,000 articles in its first year—a rate of 1,500 articles per month.[1] In March, 2001, Wikipedia expanded into multilingual sites, beginning the development of Wikipedias for all major languages.[8]


Initially, Wikipedia was managed by Bomis, a commercial web portal headed by Jimmy Wales. In March 2002, during the dot-com bust, Bomis withdrew funding for Wikipedia.[9] At that time, Larry Sanger left both Nupedia and Wikipedia. He returned briefly to academia, then joined the Digital Universe Foundation and founded Citizendium, an alternative open encyclopedia that uses real names for contributors to discourage vandalism and expert guidance to ensure accuracy of information.[10]

Meanwhile, after substantial consultation with Alex Roshuk, Jimmy Wales created the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), a non-profit charitable organization headquartered in St. Petersburg, FL, later moved to San Francisco, CA.[6] Announced on June 20, 2003, the WMF serves as an umbrella body that includes several other types of wiki collaborative information sharing sites:

The foundation's by-laws declare a statement of purpose of collecting and developing educational content and to disseminate it effectively and globally.[11] Wikimedia is managed by a Board of Trustees. The Foundation and a team of local volunteers also organize Wikimania every year, a conference for users of the Wikimedia Foundation projects.

Academic Studies of Wikipedia

Academic studies of Wikipedia have mainly used Wikipedia as a tool to analyze other phenomena. The users on Wikipedia provide a large database of subjects which the researchers use to test their hypotheses or as a social network which can be manipulated and observed. The majority of studies focus on either semantic relatedness[12][13][14] or online coordination and conflict resolution techniques.[15][16][17]

There is a persistent and widespread failure of academic studies to address the realities of Wikipedia, as opposed to the wishful pipe-dreams of armchair speculators and the uncritical recycling of Wikipedian promotional claims. There is a pressing need for the application of disciplined field study methods and qualitative research based on systematic participant observation.

Academic Reflections on Wikipedia

  • Cummings, Robert E. (12 Mar 2009), "Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?", Inside Higher Ed. Online.
  • Jaschik, Scott (26 Jan 2007), "A Stand Against Wikipedia", Inside Higher Ed. Online.
  • Lih, Andrew (16 Dec 2009), "Ron Livingston, Growth, and Wikipedia". Online.
  • Matetsky, Ira (May 2009), "Thoughts on Wikipedia", The Volokh Conspiracy. Online.
  • Schumacher, Mary Louise (30 Apr 2009), "Deconstructing Wikipedia", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Online.
  • Wilson, Mark A. (01 Apr 2008), "Professors Should Embrace Wikipedia", Inside Higher Ed. Online.

The best place to get a

Lay Questions for Scholars Concerned with the Role of Law in Society

The Law of any given Land is frequently out of sync — now leading, now lagging — the collective common sense of what it takes to constitute a just society. With that in mind, let us address the questions of justification:

  1. What is and what should be the obligations of interactive media site owners and interactive media site participants toward their fellow citizens, toward the larger communities of inquiry from which they derive their justification, and toward the world at large?
  2. It is possible to debate the current dictates of the Law at great length — this has already been done at great length and will no doubt continue to be done at even greater length. But the ordinary citizen in danger of becoming roadkill on the Internet Autobahn will be concerned with the broader horizon, longer haul issues of where the Law is bound to go if it is designed to achieve and maintain a just society.

Freedom of Speech, False Witness, Truth in Advertising

Legal and Social Justification for Tax Incentives

Unsafe @ Any Speed?

  • Need to consider the very real possibility that Wikipedia is an inherently defective social-technical product that cannot be fixed by any means even remotely feasible given the present conditions of its existence.
  • Technical infrastructure needs to be improved

Critical Reflective Self-Study and Institutional Research?

  • The difficulties, if not impossibilities, of continuous quality improvement in a system that is hostile to critical feedback and resistant to the principles of learning organizations. It would be possible to make a very long list of previous efforts along these lines that have been aborted or gutted by the prevailing dynamics of the Wikipedian subculture.
  • If crowdsourcing is so great, why does the Wikimedia Foundation need to hire professional strategic planning cum public representation agencies like the Bridgespan Group to do its institutional research?

The Laborious Way That Decisions Are Made?

  • Process vs. Substance

Newbies? Editing Interface

  • Is maintaining a higher complexity level in the editing interface a mechanism for quality control? (e.g. users needs to be at least nominally computer literate to be able to edit/operate within wikipedia)
  • Breaking through the glass ceiling - how can newbies be encouraged to contribute?

Online harassment or defamation problem in Wikipedia?

  • Ron LIvingston v. Mark Binmore
  • Star Wars Kid
  • ReputationDefender
    • Maybe this is not a problem of Wikipedia, this is a problem in the internet generally

Getting Educational Institutions to Explicitly Participate

Just be sure to read all the comments, too.
From the standpoint of the purpose identified in the Cummings blogicle, I question whether teaching students how to succeed in Wikipedia's dysfunctional rhetorical environment, or learning Wikipedia's preferred style of authorship, which is difficult to distinguish from organized, sanctioned plagiarism, is of any benefit to students or to teachers. Wikipedia also has a tendency to be resistant to such efforts; I recall several instances of students having been assigned to edit Wikipedia and subsequently being blocked on the grounds that their assignment created a "conflict of interest" (a term of art within Wikipedia's idiosyncratic jargon which means something other than what an ordinary person would think it means). Kelly Martin 17:53, 13 January 2010 (UTC)
  • so "Partnership" was thrown around incredibly loosely
  • Getting students to flag hotspots (see flagging proposal)
  • Getting students to learn about how projects like Wikipedia work
    A proper study of how Wikipedia works, and more importantly how Wikipedia fails, could possibly be of interest for students in social psychology, abnormal psychology, political science, marketing, and other related fields. Marketing people, especially, should be very interested in learning how to exploit Wikipedia more effectively. Kelly Martin 17:53, 13 January 2010 (UTC)
    • Clarifying how not to use Wikipedia
    • Addressing institutions' views on sources, primary and secondary
    • Addressing Wikipedian's concerns on newbies
      A recent attempt at a quality control study (the "NEWT project") on the treatment of editors perceived to be newbies by managers of Wikipedia's speedy deletion process was met with strong disapproval by the community. Wikipedia's community actively resists efforts, either internal or external, to examine its internal processes and behaviors, except when the purpose is clearly structured from the beginning to be adulatory.
  • Keeping in mind all of this: Wikipedia school and university projects



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 [1],History of Wikipedia. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "History of Wikipedia" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "History of Wikipedia" defined multiple times with different content
  2. [2], Wikipedia Entry on Nupedia.
  3. [3], Wikipedia Entry on Interpedia
  4. [4], Joseph Reagle Article on Interpedia & Wikipedia Background.
  5. [5],The Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource.
  6. 6.0 6.1 [6], Wikimedia Foundation Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Wikimedia Foundation" defined multiple times with different content
  7. [7], The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir - Part I" and "Part II", Slashdot, April 2005.
  9. [8].(July 31, 2006). Schiff, Stacy. "Know It All". The New Yorker.
  10. [9], Anderson, Nate (February 25, 2007). "Citizendium: building a better Wikipedia". Ars Technica.
  11. [10], Wikimedia Foundation bylaws. Archived from the original on 2007-04-20.
  12. M Strube et al,WikiRelate!, Computer Semantic Relatedness Using Wikipedia, Proceedings of the National Conference on Artificial Intelligence (2006)
  13. E Gabrilovich et al, Computing Semantic Relatedness Using Wikipedia-Based Explicit Semantic Analysis(2007)
  14. Zesch et al, Analyzing and Accessing WIkipedia as a Lexical Semantic Resource, Data Structures for Linguistic Resources (2007).
  15. Viegas et al, [Talk Before You Type: Coordination in Wikipedia, Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (2007)
  16. Kittur et al, He Says, She Says; Conflict and Coordination in Wikipedia, Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Computing (2007)
  17. D Wilkonson & B Huberman, Assessing the Value of Cooperation in Wikipedia, Computers and Society, arXiv:cs/0702140v1 [cs.DL] (2007).