Commentary Chapter 3

From Yochai Benkler - Wealth of Networks
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Overview

Free/Open Source Software

Peer Production of Information, knowledge, and Culture Generally

I would like to comment on one salient aspect of Wikipedia to which I believe you have not given full enough attention, although I acknowledge it may not serve your thesis in quite the same way. You write at 74:

What is perhaps
surprising is that this success occurs not in a tightly knit community with
many social relations to reinforce the sense of common purpose and the
social norms embodying it, but in a large and geographically dispersed group
of otherwise unrelated participants. It suggests that even in a group of this
size, social norms coupled with a facility to allow any participant to edit out
purposeful or mistaken deviations in contravention of the social norms, and
a robust platform for largely unmediated conversation, keep the group on
track.

I believe the characterization of the project not having a "tightly knit community with many social relations" is in a fundamental respect simply not true. Wikipedia has thousands of users who are registered and who maintain a rich and diverse culture of userpages. With each page on the encyclopedia, as well as the User: namespace, there exists a discussion page, or Talk: page; it is in the nature of all wikis, especially those running MediaWiki software such as this. The vast network of intertwined editors have been through the same edit wars, shared opposition to vandals, categorized themselves with userboxes denoting various enthusiasms, wiki-philosophies, collegiate affiliations and so forth. There are "projects" to enhance content areas with users claiming allegiance to the same. And, because all edits in the wiki are identified by Username, the User: page is only a click away from any page in the encyclopedia.

Why does this matter? Because it is not just the social construct of a million thoughtful scribes punching away at this project one keystroke at a time - it is a million people. Humans. With personality. It is life's rich pageant to be sure. It is a proper reflection of the diversity of interest any encyclopedia captures at its best. These individuals also engage in the time-honored internet traditions of the use of colorful pen names, identities, and mythology.

To this add, there are other dimensions of interaction apart from the facially visible text. The Wikimedia Foundation has mailing lists for each of its projects and maintains a 24/7 presence in IRC space as well. Hundreds if not thousands of users will be online at any given time, interacting in ways that are some distance away from any article.

I will return to this page at a more decent hour and add the requisite citations to Wikipedia for those interested. For now, I was struck by the treatment Wikipedia received in the book, and while it says so much, and captures its academic essence, it is in fact a much, much richer community. And I'm only talking about English Wikipedia! The dozens of other languages will have much more to say about their own subcultures.

The best part is, we are living it now. It is real now. And it is changing the world. --BradPatrick 20:49, 19 April 2006 (PDT)


The point of Brad is certainly true in our case at the [ADempiere Project] where we have a closely knit culture and social norm based on a common interest highly assisted by tools such as the IRC room where the new found members quickly bond and push out our production more speedily and at previously unheard of quality and variety. As u can see we are geographically dispersed and prior to this project mostly unknown to each other. But having said that, the author is also right. There are many cases where a long tail of often solo appearances of participation been made to our project content, such as posting of bugs' info, and after that never to hear from them again. Red1 18:30, 3 December 2006 (PST)

Uttering Content

Relevance/Accreditation

Value-Added Distribution

Sharing of Processing, Storage, and Communications Platforms