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Wikipedians' "encyclopedic identity" dominates even in Kosovo debates; analysis of "In the news" discussions; user hierarchy mapped

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By Federico Leva, Computermacgyver, Kim Osman, Jonathan Morgan, Piotr Konieczny, Niklas Laxström, Tilman Bayer and James Heilman

A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

Cross-language study of conflict on Wikipedia

Have you wondered about differences in the articles on Crimea in the Russian, Ukrainian, and English versions of Wikipedia? A newly published article entitled "Lost in Translation: Contexts, Computing, Disputing on Wikipedia"[1] doesn't address Crimea, but nonetheless offers insight into the editing of contentious articles in multiple language editions through a heavy qualitative examination of Wikipedia articles about Kosovo in the Serbian, Croatian, and English editions.

The authors, Pasko Bilic and Luka Bulian from the University of Zagreb, found the main drivers of conflict and consensus were different group identities in relation to the topic (Kosovo) and to Wikipedia in general. Happily, the authors found the dominant identity among users in all three editions was the "encyclopedic identity," which closely mirrored the rules and policies of Wikipedia (e.g., NPOV) even if the users didn't cite such policies explicitly. (This echoes the result of a similar study regarding political identities of US editors, see previous coverage: "Being Wikipedian is more important than the political affiliation".) Other identities were based largely on language and territorial identity. These identities, however, did not sort cleanly into the different language editions: "language and territory [did] not produce coherent and homogeneous wiki communities in any of the language editions."

The English Wikipedia was seen by many users as providing greater visibility and thus "seem[ed] to offer a forum for both Pro-Serbian and Pro-Albanian viewpoints making it difficult to negotiate a middle path between all of the existing identities and viewpoints." The Arbitration Committee, present in the English edition but not in the Serbian or Croatian editions, may have helped prevent even greater conflict. Enforcement of its decisions seemed generally to lead to greater caution in the edition process.

In line with previous work showing some users move between language editions, the authors found a significant amount of coordination work between the language editions. One central focus centered around whether other editions would follow the English edition in breaking the article into two separate articles (Republic of Kosovo and Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija).

The social construction of knowledge on English Wikipedia

review by Kim Osman

Another paper by Bilic, published in New Media & Society[2] looks at the logic behind networked societies and the myth perpetuated by media institutions that there is a center of the social world (as opposed to distributed nodes). The paper goes on to investigate the social processes that contribute to the creation of “mediated centers”, by analyzing the talk pages of English Wikipedia’s In The News (ITN) section.

Undertaking an ethnographic content analysis of ITN talk pages from 2004–2012, Bilic found three issues that were disputed among Wikipedians in their efforts to construct a necessarily temporal section of the encyclopedia. First, that editors differentiate between mass media and Wikipedia as a digital encyclopedia, however what constitutes the border between the two is often contested. Second, there was debate between inclusionists and deletionists regarding the criteria for stories making the ITN section. Third, conflict and discussion occurred regarding English Wikipedia’s relevance to a global audience.

The paper provides a good insight into how editors construct the ITN section and how it is positioned on the “thin line between mass media agenda and digital encyclopedia.” It would be interesting to see further research on the tensions between the Wikipedia policies mentioned in the paper (e.g. WP:NOTNEWS, NPOV) and mainstream media trends in light of other studies about Wikipedia’s approach to breaking news coverage.

User hierarchy map: Building Wikipedia's Org Chart

If you were to make an org chart of English Wikipedia, what would it look like? A recent study[3] presented at the 2014 European Conference on Information Systems examines whether the organizational hierarchy of Wikipedia is as flat and egalitarian as previous research and popular media have claimed in the past. The researchers point out that the degree to which Wikipedia’s actual governance model (and those of other peer production communities) reflect egalitarian principles has seldom been comprehensively examined. Furthermore, a growing body of research has shown that Wikipedia has become increasingly bureaucratic along many dimensions, often in response to new community needs. This suggests that Wikipedia has grown more hierarchical, and less flat, over time.

The researchers develop a taxonomy based on technical user rights and the quality assurance, coordination, and conflict resolution tasks commonly associated with those user rights. They use exploratory factor analysis, least square analysis, and qualitative examination of the user right description pages to distill 19 user rights down to 8 social roles. They assemble these roles into a hierarchy according to their Scope, Granting, Access, and Promotion relationships. For example, in this hierarchy, editors in the Security Force role (checkusers and oversighters) have more power than administrators (sysops and bureaucrats) because being a sysop is an informal prerequisite for checkuser rights, and because oversighters can use the RevisionDelete extension in suppressor mode, blocking access to the content from administrators.

The paper does an excellent job of distilling the complex matrix of technologically mediated power relationships within and across Wikimedia wikis into a relatively simple organizational chart (presented on manuscript page 11). However, other mappings are certainly possible. For example, this analysis excludes the role of bots (and therefore, bot wranglers) within the role ecology. It also does not address the soft power that well-respected veteran community members may wield in some situations.



  1. ^ Bilic, Pasko & Bulian, Luka (2014). "Lost in Translation: Contexts, Computing, Disputing on Wikipedia". iConference 2014.
  2. ^ Bilic, Pasko (2014). ""Searching for a centre that holds" in the network society: Social construction of knowledge on, and with, English Wikipedia". New Media & Society. doi:10.1177/1461444814522953. ISSN 1461-4448. Closed access icon
  3. ^ Arazy, Ofer; Oded Nov; Felipe Ortega (2014). The [Wikipedia] world is not flat: On the organizational structure of online production communities (PDF). Twenty Second European Conference on Information Systems.
  4. ^ Collaborative Tools: From Wiktionary to LMF, for Synchronic and Diachronic Language Data. Chapter written by Thierry DECLERCK, Pirsoka LENDVAI and Karlheinz MÖRTH.
  5. ^ Global Atlas: Proper Nouns, From Wikipedia to LMF. Chapter written by Gil FRANCOPOULO , Frédéric MARCOUL, David CAUSSE and Grégory PIPARO.
  6. ^ Alegria I., Cabezon U., Fernandez de Betoño U., Labaka G., Mayor A., Sarasola K. and Zubiaga A.: Wikipedia and Machine Translation: killing two birds with one stone. Workshop on 'Free/open-source language resources for the machine translation of less-resourced languages' at LREC 2014.
  7. ^ Oeberst, Aileen; Iassen Halatchliyski; Joachim Kimmerle; Ulrike Cress (2014-02-21). "Knowledge Construction in Wikipedia: A Systemic-Constructivist Analysis". Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi:10.1080/10508406.2014.888352. ISSN 1050-8406. Closed access icon
  8. ^ Zlatos, Christy (2014-03-12). "Still Not Ready for Prime Time: Academic Librarian Attitudes towards Wikipedia in a Networked Age". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Schwerte, Thorsten; Stefan Stolz. "Preparing and publishing Wikipedia articles are a good tool to train project management, teamwork and peer reviewed publishing processes in life sciences". 2012 Proceedings. Improving University Teaching. The University of British Columbia.
  10. ^ Alexios V. Brailas: Networked Grounded Theory. The Qualitative Report 2014 Volume 19, How To Article 3, 1–16
  11. ^ Maggi, Elisa; Luca Magistrelli; Marco Zavattaro; Marta Beggiato; Fabio Maiello; Cristina Naturale; Margherita Ragliani; Marco Varalda; Maria Sofia Viola; Diego Concina; Elias Allara; Fabrizio Faggiano; et al. (Avogadro Wikipedia and HAI Group) (2013). "Risk factors and control of hospital acquired infections: a comparison between Wikipedia and scientific literature". Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Public Health. 10 (1). ISSN 2282-0930.
  12. ^ Graham, Mark; Bernie Hogan; Ralph K. Straumann; Ahmed Medhat (2014-01-21). Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2382617. to appear in Annals of the Association of American Geographers
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Unless I get feedback to the contrary, I think I am going to be bold and actually wikilink to the interlingual versions of the Crimea article, given that the articles are given such a prominent position in the article. I strongly urge future editors to do the same, given that automatic translation is so widely accessible, e.g., Google Chrome. They are still Wikipedia links, after all. Int21h (talk) 06:35, 4 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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