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Submissions/Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia (On Trust, Distrust, Betrayal and Loyalty)

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2014.

Submission no. 1021
Title of the submission
Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia (On Trust, Distrust, Betrayal and Loyalty)
Type of submission
Author of the submission
Dariusz Jemielniak
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Kozminski University
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

The proposed presentation is a result of a six-year ethnographic project, conducted 2006-2012 on two major Wikipedias, and forthcoming in early 2014 in a book by Stanford University Press. In the process of doing research, I have become an admin, a bureaucrat, a checkuser, and a steward - and I use this insight to combine internal community perspective with an academic one.

In the presentation I want to briefly summarize the findings of the study, and present a case analysis of one major trust crisis in Wikimedia movement: the so-called Essjay-controversy. Through this case I am going to show how trust on Wikipedia is enacted. I am going to propose that in Wikipedia community trust in people is substituted by trust in procedures. Instead of creating systems of credentials, Wikipedia relies on a system of depersonalized rules. This approach is very effective in terms of allowing people to assume different identities, personas, and avatars, which is an important feature, attracting new editors to Wikipedia. Yet, it also creates a complex system of bureaucratic rules, and significantly increases the need for peer control. As a result, paradoxically, Wikipedia relies on an open and free community of equals, who nevertheless act as if everybody was a suspect unless proven otherwise, and insist on tracking and recording every single action of other Wikipedians for evidence purposes.

On the book: Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia is the first ethnographic, participative study of the Wikipedia community and its unique social organization from the management and organization studies perspective. It focuses on the innovative collaboration and conflict resolution model adopted at Wikipedia (forcing the parties of disagreement to actually work together for Wikipedia’s improvement). It examines the power and status relationship (unusual in its almost Zen-like approach to those with wider prerogatives, who are constantly reminded that they serve others and are on par with everybody in the community), as well as systems of symbolic incentives used on Wikipedia. It describes Wikipedia’s unusual organizational structure and business model; the ways in which Wikipedians resolve their disputes, as well as build their status within the community; a system of para-hierarchical roles in a strongly anti-hierarchical organization; bureaucratic control of peers substituting direct management; substitution of trust in people and credential checks by using trust in procedures; the main founder’s role in managing Wikipedia’s culture and the demise of Wikipedia leadership; and the unique Wikipedia organizational design that relies both on highly bureaucratized procedures and on semi-anarchist, participative chaos. The book attempts to explain how the Wikipedian community operates internally, and to show how the elements of its design can be used as useful examples for more traditional contemporary organizations and businesses.

Dariusz Jemelniak's book will be available to buy at Wikimania, both at the talk on Friday 8th August and from the Barbican bookshop. It is also available online at http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk/common-knowledge and Jemielniak, Dariusz (2014) Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia, Stanford: Stanford University Press

  • WikiCulture & Community
Looks like a good option for the outreach track. EdSaperia (talk) 18:40, 25 January 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 Minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
This is likely
Slides or further information (optional)
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