Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wisdom of the Crowd or Technicity of Content? - Week 11 Assigned Reading

Wisdom of the Crowd or Technicity of Content? Wikipedia as a Sociotechnical System was published in 2010, when Wikipedia had been in existence for just under a decade. Within the article, Niederer and van Dijck inform the reader how, "It is important to comprehend the powerful information technologies that shape our everyday life and the coded mechanisms behind our informational practices and cultural experience" (pg 1384). This analysis of Wikipedia is their step in the direction of this understanding.  

To begin, the article uses three debates regarding the credibility, accuracy, and neutrality of Wikipedia through a continued focus on Wikipedia's unique interrelation between technological tools and human interaction. These debates include "the question of whether Wikipedia is authored primarily by a few elite users or by many common contributors," "refocus the public debate on the quality of Wikipedia's encyclopedic information by shifting attention to the protocols and technologies deployed to facilitate consensus editing," and "show how dependent various user groups and entries are on non-human content agents (or bots) that assist in editing Wikipedia content" (pg 1369). 

These debates are strengthened through a mixture of the history of Wikipedia, the type of users who have and continue to contribute to the wiki, the hierarchy at work, and descriptive figures. The information provided within the article is able to explain how Wikipedia entries are verifiable, demonstrate no new research, and maintain a neutral point of view (pg 1374). Neiederer and van Dijck's argument that "Wikipedia's nature and quality should be evaluated in terms of collaborative qualities, not only of its human users, but specifically of its human and non-human actors" is held up not only through the facts and figures included but also in the layout of Wisdom of the Crowd or Technicity of Content (pg 1383). 

In my personal opinion, the most interesting section to read was that of the bots which work to co-author Wikipedia. In 2002 there was only 1 active bot, in 2006 there were 151, and by 2008 there were 457 active bots (pg 1377). I appreciated the explanation of what these bots were working on as while I'm familiar with what a bot is, I was unaware of the types of bots Wikipedia is using. Wikipedia has editing and non-editing bots. The editing bots "co-author" material while the non-editing bots complete administrative purposes. It is also interesting to note how the bots are used within the different language supported by Wikipedia. The depictions on pages 1381 and 1382 are worth noting as they demonstrate the bot activity within the most-used and most endangered languages of Wikipedia. These bots do more work than humans are able to and greatly assist in maintaining Wikipedia as the source it is today. 

Overall, I found this article to be a fitting read given the degree to which myself and the general public uses Wikipedia. It's always helpful to learn more about a technology, especially one as commonplace as this. Please comment with questions or comments. 


Sabine Niederer et al., "Wisdom of the crowd or technicity of content?  Wikipedia as a sociotechnical system," New Media and Society 12:8 (2010), 1368-1387.  19 pages.

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