Week 2.1 – Wikis and Wikipedia

Let’s talk quickly about Wikis. What are they? Why are they cool? How have they changed the nature of collaborative knowledge creation?
We are going to be using a wiki to carry out the group assignment and I just wanted to reflect a bit on wiki nature.

This quick presentation is available on Slideshare.

Also please take a quick view of: Jimmy Wales – How a Ragtag Band of Volunteers Changed the World (2005)


Jimmy Wales (1966 – ) is an American Internet entrepreneur best known as a co-founder and promoter of the online non-profit encyclopedia Wikipedia and the for-profit Wikia web-hosting company. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance. While working as the research director of a Chicago futures and options firm in 1996, he and two partners founded Bomis, a male-oriented web portal featuring entertainment and adult content. The company would provide the initial funding for the peer-reviewed free encyclopedia Nupedia (2000–2003) and its successor, Wikipedia.
In 2001, with Larry Sanger and others, Wales launched Wikipedia, a free, open content encyclopedia that enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. Wales serves on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit charitable organization he helped establish to operate Wikipedia, holding its board-appointed “community founder” seat.

  • Kevin

    Another interesting video, I wonder has the 18% of anonymous
    editors gone up given how more readily available devices and internet access

    • Good Q. Raises a big question about how anonymous we really are though and although more mobile editing and you would expect more sensitive ID data being exchanged…how many individuals will actually consciously self-identify.

    • Kevin Burns

      Could not find the stat I wanted but more are here


  • David Spain

    I tried to write a wikipedia article about the place I come from. I’ll probably give it a go again. It might be interesting to see if someone votes against my local knowledge.

  • Kevin Burns

    Had a quick look but could not find the stats on anonymous
    editors but found some others like, Page edits since Wikipedia was set up 658,433,425. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Statistics

  • Elaine D.

    I know Tony wanted to set up a Wiki for our class/course which is a great idea. I’m glad we will get to use a wiki in the group assignment , it will be good to get experience so we can set up our own.

  • Martin O’ Donnell

    The collaborative framework that wikis are built on has enabled a new way of working and sharing information for millions of people. But the management structure that Jimmy Wales describes is the most interesting point for me. He makes it sound so disorganised, as if the technology somehow turns the various volunteers random efforts into a beautiful, structured, well maintained system. Most organisations spend the majority of their time and effort on managing and documenting the work done. It sounds like wikipedia do a pretty good job with very little centralised control.

    • stephanie

      That’s just what I thought! This video completely contradicts my perception from the Collaboration vs Institutions video, how could anything of value be produced by a collaborative unpaid group of people over the internet? And wow, there it is something so massively successful with one employee, and a bunch of volunteers that maintain a fabulous core value of neutrality! Very impressive, beautiful structure, beautiful vision, I’d never thought much about the purpose of Wikipedia, but their mission to provide free access to the sum of all human knowledge! It’s like saying ‘today Pinky I’m going to take over the world’! And yet their goal that seems so outlandish is actually very possible, I do forget sometimes the massive opportunities and benefits we’ve been given, there now is free education available for anyone that has access to the internet.

      • Gavin Duffy

        This type of management structure and the concept of a user driven, real-time encyclopedia is in itself a radical move, and has paid off as the Wikipedia model appears to be working. I think the neutral point of view point is key here. If this can be achieved, it will reform the documentation of historic events and has the potential to eliminate ancient non-partisan interpretations. Wales’ affirmative and witty ‘But why would you do that?’ retort to the journalist who admitted vandalising an article was progressive and embodies a necessary paradigm shift in the ethos of information sharing.

        The introduction of Wikis provides an advanced user-driven CMS/intranet
        platform. This is a positive development and works as an enriched shared knowledge tool, but speaking from personal experience from a business perspective, the absence of a defined owner or regular updating of data can lead to time-sensitive information becoming redundant.

        I think the key thing is that Wikis need to be maintained regularly by users/owners to achieve the potential they offer which is something Wikipedia highlights..

  • Rob Hurson

    What I got from that is that it’s very important not to get caught up in a very formal process around certain things; yes, they have rules that they abide by, but they’re not letting the overall objective (quality) suffer at the expense of procedural rules. It’s an interesting idea – you could run a community effort this way (and they do!), or a company, but not a government, or a legal system. I guess it comes down to trust – they’re running a relatively close-knit community where reputational value is key, with a final appeals system based around deferring to the founder if something crops up that they haven’t been able to deal with before.

  • ejmoffatt

    Oops – sorry about the multiple posts. I’m not doing it on purpose to increase my comment count. Honest.

  • Barbara Pudlowska Pires

    Very interesting video on it can be really used by “normal” people. I use WIKI in my work place to document all process work that IT team follows. It works pretty well and does the job rather then maintain “Mamut” document to which noone ever looked in. It is very structured and also gives you idea of how “you” would like to present and for what purpose can be used.

    • Joseph Holland

      We also use wikis for documentation where I work. I think that wikis are great tool for knowledge transfer and documentation as they allow a user, after spotting an omission or mistake in the document can make the change to fix it almost instantly and then the info is correct for everyone.

      Whereas if you look at creating separate Word, Excel, etc. documents for the same info, if a mistake is corrected everyone may have different versions of the document and this is bound to cause problems later on!

      • maud o connor

        Joe – are employees engaged in adding and editing content, out of interest? That was one of the biggest headaches for me – some people just didn’t want to let their knowledge free..they used it as a security blanket I guess. is this an initiative with full and enthusiastic management support? Do you budget time separately or is it an “as an when you can” approach?

        • Joseph Holland

          Hi Maud,
          Yes, employees add any needed info or make changes to the current documentation if they spot a mistake, etc. The time to update the online documentation is not usually much and is done when you can.

          I think in my job as a consultant; the time spent to fix an issue is critical and everyone shares as much info as they can with each other in order to do this and wikis help greatly!

          It’s the ease of editing that I think is the main plus point of wikis. They make it very easy to update, but also keep all older revisions and let you know how changed what, etc.

  • Yvonne Healy

    Fascinating video. I have never really given Wikipedia and how it all comes together much thought before. It’s just there – a great starting point when you are looking for information on just about anything. The organisation of so much information really is quite radical and very impressive.

  • thomas kiely

    I suppose my first reaction to the video was surprise in
    terms of the running costs involved and the fact there is only 1 full time
    employee. You would struggle to find someone who hasn’t heard or used Wikipedia
    at some stage so it is very impressive how they manage to run it so

    I also couldn’t help but try and edit the information on a
    page to see how long it would take or if the information would be changed back.
    I decided Ireland should to be World and European champions in football (see
    screenshot below) so I went and updated the text on the page. For all of 3
    minutes I am proud to say anyone who had searched Wikipedia under “World Cup
    2010” would have thought Ireland won the final 6-0.

    I suppose you can look at this in both a positive and
    negative way. Firstly the quality control of the pages was tested and
    successfully changed back which is encouraging as to the accuracy of the
    information stored on the site. My IP Address was also blocked from making
    further edits which cuts out the amount of spamming one person can carry out on
    the page.

    The negative being how easy it was to manipulate the
    information on a site used by so many people albeit for a short period of time.
    Although we are told not to refer to Wikipedia for academic purposes, I would
    be surprised if everyone has not checked out information on the site at some point
    over the past 2 and half years during the course.

    The other issue would be how to they validate more obscure information
    uploaded onto lesser searched pages. It was quite easy for them to verify that
    Ireland clearly didn’t win the World Cup 6-0 but if I was to edit information
    and update false, potentially damaging information on a particular subject or
    person which they are unable to verify on the “Google test” they carry out, is
    the information more likely to remain on Wikipedia for a longer period of time?

    Maybe I am just being paranoid…

  • Gavin Duffy

    I’d use Wikipedia several times daily but am conscious that if looking for concrete fact I would need to verify it elsewhere.

    I found Wales’ attitude during the presentation slightly aloof and un-engaging.
    It was if he was trying to put across this chaotic yet standardised (oxymoron?), idyllic compendium of neutral general reference work. To me this seems like ‘shop-window’ statement of radicalism fronting an increasingly ordered interior. And if that’s not the case, with the growth of articles surely the quality and standards will need to be water-tight.

    How does Wikimedia guarantee the Wikipedians have a NPOV (neutral point of view), is it even possible to get to a stage where your views are 100% neutral?

    There have been some interesting news articles recently regarding the reliability, paid-for advocacy and the decrease in editors at Wikipedia:

    Wikipedia probe into paid-for ‘sockpuppet’ entries:

    The Decline of Wikipedia:

    Is this the decline of Wikipedia? A third of editors have QUIT complaining site bosses have ‘lowered the bar’ on quality:

    But the figures don’t lie, do they?…..According to Wikipedia there are ’30 million articles in 287 languages’. It will be interesting see how the relationship between Wikipedia/ (inc. Wikibooks) and academic institutions pans out in the not-so-distant future.

  • maud o connor

    I started looking at wikis in a more structured way to prepare for the fun of the group assignment! I love the concept of wkikpedia – end of story and with an uncritical eye on the numerous articles that abound on the failings and shortcomings of the model. This is the online equivalent of the re-building of the library of Alexandria and charging no entrance fee!.

    It seems to me that Wikipedia suffers unduly from the fear of the new ..and the fear of the open. It clearly isnt a perfect information source of course – Wales admits that the core ‘elders’ are few and are volunteers but such a small group cant be experts in all fields on all topics. However, Wikipedia is often the start of a journey of research and a lot of commentators here have admitted it.

    I’ve used wikis, or something like, in work over the years and I think they’re a fantastic resource. The time spend setting them up and maintaining them can be paid back in positive terms in the reduction of lapsed time in getting new employees up to speed on a topic or project. The biggest headaches keeping wikis current are 1. employee willingness to share knowledge and 2. getting time allocated to add and edit content (where all time is tightly budgeted and assigned) – this might be a failing though in the very monolithic and traditional companies I’ve worked in.

    Which all makes Wikipedia even more extraordinary for me. It is still at the heart of online knowledge content (admittedly non-academic) but its running costs are minuscule and at the heart of what Wales calls a ‘chaotic” organisation is a successfully functioning machine.

    I’d be interested in seeing if wikibooks ever takes off, especially given the resistance to free online academic book library sites, but given the crisis in physical printing industry I think its a while away.

    Are universities behind the zeitgeist on allowing wikipedia as an academic resource?

    Here’s an interesting recent article on the topic – http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/may/13/should-university-students-use-wikipedia

    • Cathriona

      Maud, I agree with you that Wikipedia is often the start of a journey of research. It’s usually the first place I start, followed by clicking in and out of the references available. I also think that not enough credit is given to the volunteers that work tirelessly to ensure the credibility of the information, checking that all comments have the correct references. I was amazed that they only had one paid member of staff.

      To be honest, I’m not too familiar with wikis within the workplace as we don’t have one where I work but it sounds like most employees would really benefit from having one. All too often new employees are left sitting at their desks waiting for someone to show them the ropes. Usually everyone is too busy so the new starter is just left sitting there. Imagine how productive someone’s first day would be if they could read through a wiki of the company. It encourages employees to share the knowledge with each other which is good for morale.

      Well I’m off now to join the ‘My Little Pony’ wiki 🙂 Remember ‘Friendship is Magic’ !!

      • maud o connor

        hilarious – I was more into trains…but then that explains a lot! 😉

        The need to get new starters up and on the productivity curve was a big factor if I remember with Arthur Cox and their training requirements – a wiki would have been great for them in hindsight! But there is another element to it – I dont know how often I’ve started a contract, with loads of notification of my start date, and get there with no log-on, nothing to read, in one place no computer! If I had to be given access to an internal wiki all these problems would have forced a neat solution.

        Also – its really hard to sit there in the initial days of a new job with documents to read – online wikis are easier in that you are focussed and have to work a bit harder to stay awake…i mean navigate in a meaningful path though the content..all in all, a worthwhile undertaking for any business especially if they are considering office virtualisation (and who isn’t these days).

        • Cathriona

          I definitely think it’s something that every organisation should explore. Currently
          my company are trying to improve training. For example, today there was a WebEx
          session but due to a deadline I was unable to log in and participate. Hopefully
          they have recorded the session so I can view it at a later date when I have time. Also
          it would make sense to create a library for these sessions for employees to

  • Joseph Holland

    Just in-case anyone is interested and has around 100GB free on a computer at home you can now host the entire of Wikipedia yourself, at home… “13.9 million pages, and 3.7 million images.” Crazy!

    There’s an article on Slashdot here with more info: http://bit.ly/1enPA3e

    • daire

      I have a cousin who lives in Germany and a friend of his worked for some tech company and as a result had access to as much memory as he could fit in his car. SO his latest project is downloading the internet. Rather, as much of the internet as he can.

  • daire

    The place where I am have their own internal Wiki set up, in fact they have several. These internal wiki’s are a combination of a traditional wiki and a ticketing system as well as a messaging board.

    They are all familiar in their layout, following the classic wiki approach but what I found interesting was the organic way in which the staff have taken to expanding and sharing and editing these wikis.

    Every addition is tracked and recorded so it is very easy to go in and undo any changes that at a later date are found to be redundant or irrelevant. These safeties really allow the staff to edit the content with no fear of ending up with something that has become unusable.

  • TonyDevine

    Quote from the Simpsons about Wikipedia:

    Bart: So Dean Martin would show up at the last minute and do everything in just one take?

    Homer: That’s right.

    Bart: But Wikipedia said he was “passionate about rehearsal”.

    Homer: Don’t you worry about Wikipedia. We’ll change it when we get home. We’ll change a lot of things

  • David Watson

    The ideals of Wikipedia, the concepts of non profit realm of learning and collaborative knowledge all through the realisation of the dreams of one man to provide free education for all is a through success story of the internet and resonates it true purpose.

    Wikipedia is there for us all to use and contribute too and after completing our Wiki Assignment, I found the collaborative concept and process extremely appealing knowing the it is an active pool of knowledge you are contributing too and not a something that nobody will ever be read again.

    On saying this I was also conscious in the case of our assignment to get the most from the Wiki we needed to have a strict management and administrative process in place where each individual contributor in conscious of the predefined work they have to contribute and adhere timeline to have it completed for submission. But in the real world of Wiki these timelines don’t exist so research, contribute and enjoy.