Sunday, August 05, 2007


Considering some Wikimania sessions

Seth Anthony's Wikimania presentation "Where Have All The Writers Gone: The Diversion, Distraction and Departure of Wiki "Content Creators." has been used by some to argue that the core members of Wikipedia (well okay, the English Wikipedia) contribute very little substantial material to the content, and are more interested in arguing policy. While there is some truth to this accusation, I believe the causes for this odd indicator are far more complex than these results of Anthony's studies indicate. Keep in mind that one goal of every committed Wikipedian is the desire to recruit more knowledgable and productive members. I believe that lot of the apparently minor edits Admins make are to further this goal.

But after that presentation, the report of what was shared at this year's conference dries up. Only after clicking at random on one link did I discover a rough draft of a transcript to the panel discussion "The shifting nature of the English Wikipedia community". One could say that this is a continuation of Andrew Lih's post, "Unwanted: New articles in Wikipedia", but there is more to consider here. One point is that this is a fascinating example of how fast the Wikipedia community can move: Andrew posted his comments on the tenth of last month, and it has become a central issue at Wikimania. However, a more important one is one damning comment this transcript records on the state of the English Wikipedia (I have cleaned it up for readability reasons):
from the Hebrew Wikipedia, we have the benefit of learning from some of en's mistakes. Right now on the Hebrew Wikipedia it is considered unfashionable to say 'look, en:wp has this nice process and they have CSD G11...' When someone says that, it usually means he's about to be blocked. From our perspective... there are bigger Wikipedias we can learn from, the German Wikipedia seems to be better; they understand each other better and have less bureaucracy.

I wonder how many transcripts of various sessions, even in such a rough state, await discovery in the Wikimania website.

One example of a session I would like to know more about is Jon Philip's "Wikibiblio: A Community-based Bibliographic System." I like the idea of creating a standardized system to cite sources on Wikipedia, but long experience has taught me that what sounds good in a summary may not be a practical, functioning thing; I wanted to know more about it. The "Discuss" icon linked to "Wikimania:Forum/Technical Infrastructure", which had only a few cryptic notes about the subject. Philip's personal website failed to mention anything about "WikiBiblio". Frustrated, I resorted to Google to find something about this -- but found nothing clearly relevant to the topic. Although it led me to this intreguing proof of a concept created back in July, 2005. I have no idea if this is what Philip intended to discuss.


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I think your first link was supposed to be to here. You seem to have linked to an image, which, while interesting, probably doesn't tell the full story of Seth's presentation.
I wouldn't say that my research indicates that core editors "contribute very little substantial material to the content" of Wikipedia. As you mention, many different types of contributions have value. Copyediting, talk page discussions, and policy deliberation are all undoubtedly vital to the success of Wikipedia. Brianna Laugher's session on newbies highlighted how interactions with new users (outside of articles completely) are likely to affect their editing patterns and later behavior on the wiki.

I chose to look at "content creators" because I see their contributions as the "meat" of Wikipedia; raw meat, though, isn't palatable on its own, and you could conceptualize the other types of editing as cooking, seasoning, and presenting that meat for consumption.

I also suspect that editing patterns have changed dramatically on the large Wikipedias over time (something that any editor who's been around for more than a year will tell you in a heartbeat), and I think it's important that we develop ways to characterize this in both a quantitative and a qualitative manner, so that we can begin to understand, for instances, the ways in which we recruit and retain productive editors ("productivity" having many possible definitions)

You're right, though, about community issues being front and center at this year's Wikimania, largely propelled by the change sensed by many of the Wikipedia "old timers" who have been around since 2004 and before.

Instead of being just an old wiki-codger shaking my stick at new admins, though, I want to understand more concretely what has happened, when and how changes occurred, and what the full range of their effects are. As you suggest, it's a complicated constellation of factors that we're just now beginning to unravel scientifically.
Kelly: Thanks for alerting me to my faulty copy-&-paste. Fixed.

The 2005 webpage is apparently only a mini bibliography of some wiki-related articles that existed at that time. It appears that the Wikimania presentation (I wasn't there, just read the abstract) is talking about what goes into the <ref> tag.
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