In the interests of showcasing the diversity and adaptability of my writing and researching skills, I share with you this article, explaining how the use of wikis improved collaboration and communication on a global scale.
Using Wikipedia as the main example, I delve into the history and ideas behind the creation and utilisation of the wiki and how it has impacted how we use the internet today.
While this essay has been edited and adapted for readability as a blog and optimised for SEO (to an extent since keyword ranking wasn’t the original focus), I submitted the original article to Curtin University in 2016 for consideration towards the completion of Web Communications (WEB101).
This course formed part of my studies towards a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art & Visual Culture) and has paved the way towards me becoming a web-based copywriter.
Additionally, platforms such as wikis improved collaboration and communication in such a way that specialist workers such as myself can effectively work in remote teams towards a collective goal.
Wikipedia: Large scale collaboration and communication on the WWW
Wikipedia has tapped into the power of the World Wide Web (WWW) and the wiki platform to dramatically change communication and collaboration on a global scale. As Wikipedia is a free-to-access digital encyclopedia, article editing and writing is open to anyone and everyone who wishes to contribute.
Hence, the emphasis on global communication and collaboration marks a significant shift from traditional elitist encyclopedia writing.
Through the WWW, therefore, Wikipedia combines the intelligence of a disparate global population, with the common goal of sharing knowledge, to drive a significant change in the way projects such as encyclopedias have been tackled previously.
1. Knowledge for all
Tim Berners-Lee, a notable player in the conception of the WWW, envisaged an information store that would be freely and easily accessible and editable by all (Berners-Lee, n.d). Although, in the early days, this was not the case.
The first websites on the internet were read-only with contribution only possible for those with an understanding of HTML programming (Youngmath, 2008). However, many others shared Berners-Lee’s views.
Before long, software developers had released open-source software and platforms that enabled the average person to edit and upload content onto the WWW. Anthony, Smith and Williamson (2007) describe open source “…as the free and open creation, alteration and distribution of goods, typically software, via the contributions from vast numbers of widely distributed and uncoordinated actors”, marking the birth of Web 2.0 and the wiki was one of those open-source platforms.
Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia, utilised the wiki platform. Wikis improved collaboration, and, as a result, Wikipedia enabled collaboration and communication on a global scale far beyond imagination.
2. Wikis improved collaboration
“Collaboratively created documentation is the primary use for the wiki…” (Skrocki, as cited in Mader, 2014). Richard Stallman (2001), a prominent figure in free-access WWW came up with the concept of an open-source encyclopedia that pre-dates the launch of Wikipedia. However, while both Stallman and the Wales and Sanger duo shared the idea that encyclopedia articles should be freely accessible to all through the WWW, Stallman (2000) proposed a concept where different authors wrote individual articles.
In 2001 Wikipedia came to fruition through Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger (“History of Wikipedia,” n.d, para. 1). In contrast to Stallman’s prior concept, Wikipedia utilised the power of the wiki platform to enable a collaborative community that allows multiple authors to work concurrently on single articles (McAfee, 2006, p.24).
Therefore, while Wikipedia may not have been the first open-source encyclopedia concept, by the intent of large scale collaboration and communication on the WWW, it was unique.
3. Wikipedia: The new-age encyclopedia
Traditionally, encyclopedia articles were written by a small group of specialists collaborating their knowledge in a closed-door style. They would deliberate until they were happy with the content and quality of the article before publishing. Furthermore, to make it into an encyclopedia editorial team was a prestigious feat, reserved only for top scholars.
However, to become a Wikipedia contributor, affectionately known as a Wikipedian (Wales, 2007), you only need an internet connection.
Once registered, every stage of article creation in Wikipedia involves forms of communication and collaboration. From the process of choosing which topics are worthy of entries, writing the first lines of information, editing, through to dealing with controversial issues or detrimental edits. These all involve forms of communication and collaboration, which are unique to Wikipedia.
Furthermore, unique to how wikis improve collaboration, the open-source format allows for all edits, previous versions and controversial discussions to be publicly available and to accompany each article. Total transparency through the process is a form of communication not seen before in the editing of encyclopedia articles, and the sheer scale of public participation is also unique to the Wikipedia encyclopedia.
Vastly different from the writing and editing processes of previous encyclopedias, Wikipedia utilises a real-time online community of un-vetted editors. Therefore, Wikipedia marks a significant shift in the way multiple authors could and would continue to collaborate.
4. Collective intelligence
“What is collective intelligence? It is a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real-time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills.” (Levy, as cited in Nielson, 2010). Consequently, Wikipedia is the intelligence of the Wikipedians, universally distributed through the internet. As the Wikipedians continuously enhance it in real-time, the result is a working free encyclopedia.
Jenkins (2016) describes the refining process of Wikipedia articles to be exemplary of collective intelligence. In agreeance with Jenkins, Wales (2007), one of the founders of Wikipedia uses the phrase “… the sum of all human knowledge” to describe the resulting Wikipedia articles.
Collective intelligence works on the premise that “nobody knows everything, and everyone knows something” (Jenkins, 2016). So, by connecting people globally with the shared interest of a free encyclopedia, Wikipedia offers a unique opportunity for people, disparate in both location and interests, to collaborate and communicate on the same project.
Ciffolilli (2003, para. 25) notes that when bringing people together with a shared interest (for example, Wikipedia), cyberspace will vastly increase the number of locations those people can be from. Consequently, the wide variety of localities and social standings of the Wikipedians contributes to the wide variety of topics of interest identified and communicated by starting new Wikipedia articles.
Thus, Wikipedia is an exemplar of collective intelligence, which is only possible through the way wikis improved collaboration and communication on such a large scale, integral to the integrity of Wikipedia articles.
5. Wikipedia: Reliable content
Nowadays, Wikipedia is considered a good starting point for information on almost any topic with a wide variety of topics covered (Cohen, 2011, para. 16). Mostly, this is a result of demand-driven content-creation and the diversity of contributors.
However, Wikipedia was launched initially as a feeder site for another online encyclopedia, Nupedia (History of Wikipedia, n.d).
Nupedia was a series of articles written by academics in the traditional style of an encyclopedia. Unfortunately, Nupedia was extremely limited in content and topics with only twelve articles published in the first year. Due to the time-consuming process of collaborating scholars, it was more similar to a traditional encyclopedia (History of Wikipedia, n.d).
After its launch, Wikipedia quickly overtook Nupedia in content and popularity (History of Wikipedia, n.d). In contrast to Nupedia, Wikipedia offers a unique opportunity where users who are unable to find what they searched for are encouraged to contribute what they know by starting a new page. Therefore, the content and variety of articles in Wikipedia are driven by user demand and are not necessarily from scholars (Gardener, as cited in Cohen, 2011).
While being distinct from traditional encyclopedias which only include articles that scholars find to be worthy of publishing, Wikipedia allows the un-vetted users to dictate the direction of knowledge growth within the database, another example of how wikis improved collaboration.
6. Quality content as wikis improved collaboration and communication
While users have the option to start an article, it is incredibly likely that any given page will have numerous edits by a great combination of contributors (Gardener, as cited in Cohen, 2011). Therefore, to encourage ongoing collaboration and in the interests of accuracy, Wikipedia offers notifications to any previous authors with a personal interest in an article of changes.
As a result, this prompts an ongoing reviewing and editing process, including the option to revert to a previous version if they feel the edit was detrimental to the quality of the content (Wales, 2007).
Furthermore, to tackle the occurrence of controversial topics and edits, the Wikipedians came up with the concept of the ‘Talk’ page, which allows a separate open discussion (Wales, 2007). Accessed through a tab along the top, the ‘Talk’ page provides a unique discussion for each page (History of Wikipedia, n.d).
Hence, this function allows informal communication between any Wikipedian who wishes to participate and contribute their findings and personal conclusions on a change or a proposed change. To decide on a fair outcome for the attached article, the discussion will sometimes involve a voting process where the most convincing arguments win, rather than the number of votes (Wales, 2007).
Therefore, as wikis improve collaboration, Wikipedia is unique in the way it allows full transparency, communicating all of the steps of the process which is a heavily collaborative process in the interests of quality article content.
Wikipedia changed how we use the WWW
Wikipedia is an exemplary use of a Web 2.0 platform. By applying the right concept and utilising the way wikis improve collaboration, Wikipedia changed what we know about communication and collaboration. Therefore, as Wikipedia applied the platform of the wiki to an open-source encyclopedia, the dramatic increase in global communication and collaboration can be attributed to it.
Wikipedia has changed communication and collaboration through the unique way it manages the creation and editing of articles. Distancing itself from the traditional process of writing encyclopedias, Wikipedia has enabled non-scholars to select and drive article creation. Additionally, by making it accessible to all on the WWW, Wikipedia is the definition of collective intelligence.
Furthermore, the Wikipedian community ensures quality and integrity. Through various tools, Wikipedia makes the content creation process transparent while encouraging the community to self-moderate in real-time.
Therefore, Wikipedia has uniquely influenced communication and collaboration on a global scale and should be revered for more than merely collated content.
Anthony, D., Smith, S. W., & Williamson, T. (2007). The Quality of Open Source Production: Zealots and Good Samaritans in the Case of Wikipedia. Technical Report TR2007-606, Department of Computer Science, Dartmouth College. Retrieved from http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/reports/TR2007-606.pdf
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Cohen, N. (2011). Define Gender Gap? Look up Wikipedia’s Contributor List. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/business/media/31link.html?_r=2
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McAfee, A. P. (2006). Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration. Retrieved from http://www.wikiservice.at/upload/ChristopheDucamp/McAfeeEntrepriseDeux.pdf
Nielson, M. (2010, May 23). “Collective Intelligence.” By Pierre Levy. [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/collective-intelligence-by-pierre-levy/
Stallman. R. (2000). The Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource. GNU. Retrieved from https://www.gnu.org/encyclopedia/anencyc.txt
Wales, J. (2007, January 16). Jimmy Wales: How a ragtag band created Wikipedia [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQR0gx0QBZ4
Youngmath. (2008, June 11). What is Web 2.0? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg2c7v_ozgY&feature=related