Why Wikipedia won

This post originally appeared on the Fall 2011 Collaboration in Networked Environments blog.

Tim Neff wrote:

Just thought I’d post a link to this article from Nieman Journalism Lab: “Why Did Wikipedia Succeed While Other Encyclopedias Failed?”

I didn’t realize there were so many earlier attempts to create a collaborative online encyclopedia. This article, based on a lecture by Benjamin Mako Hill, a Harvard Berkman Center fellow, points out several reasons why Wikipedia worked:

1. Wikipedia clung closely to the familiar concept of an encyclopedia, while other online efforts tried to re-define what an encyclopedia could be. “It felt familiar.”
2. Wikipedia focused on content, rather than technology. Again, it didn’t try to implement some radical new tool.
3. Wikipedia has “low transaction costs” … it’s easy to contribute.
4. Wikipedia makes it difficult to tell who contributed. This again lowers the barrier to collaborate by making people feel comfortable jumping in and contributing, even in minor ways.

So, might a good rule of thumb for designing online collaboration environments be “Keep it simple and familiar”?

I think this is interesting in light of the Oosterhuis reading from earlier that emphasized the need to learn how to swim in the data stream, which seems like a daunting task. It’s comforting to know that you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes simple, familiar designs can enhance that ability to intuitively interface with data.

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Doruff: ‘The Translocal Event and the Polyryhthmic Diagram’

Sher Doruff’s “The Translocal Event” emphasizes the role of play/interplay as an attractor of collective action. A core question here: If the code (such as the code that a network is based upon) is fixed, how can something as spontaneous and rule-bending as play emerge? A solution space in computer-mediated play may simply point to open architectures in distributed compositional applications.
One takeaway here is that social networks are most effective when they encourage play, such as “Mafia Wars” and “Farmville” (distributed compositional applications) on Facebook. Or merely being able to “poke” someone. Does Google+ have this? Does it need this?

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

Boyd: ‘Incantations for Muggles’

Danah Boyd’s “Incantations for Muggles” underscore how Web 2.0 technologies mesh with and enrich everyday life. This piece emphasizes that technologies fit into pre-existing practices.
Boy outlines four key life stages that have direct relevance for the exploration of social network successes and failures.

Stage 1: Identity formation and role-seeking (youth)
This is the stage of youth, where we try to make sense of who we are in relation to others. We try to reflect aspects of conflicting social cues back on others. This echoes Goffman’s theories about the presentation of self, as cited in a previous post. Youth are a separate subculture, and this period lasts a lot longer today than it used to.

Stage 2: Integration and coupling (20s)
This life stage, typically the 20s, is when people seek meaningful labor and campanionship. Unfortunately, the jobs aren’t there today, so this is an increasingly vague period.

Stage 3: Societal contribution
This is where the “Donna Reed” meets “Father Knows Best” model still applies. The white picket fence myth is still remarkably ubiquitous. It is the dream that many are working toward.

Stage 4: Reflection and storytelling
“In theory, people retire and their children grow up.”

The key takeaway here is that people value different things at different life stages, and they use technologies for different purposes that suit these values:

How would you design for these different groups? Unfortunately, for the most part, they’re considered one big lump of “generic user.” Many of the technologies that they’re using are the same, but how they’re using them differs.

You can see this through “social network sites” and “blogging tools.” Youth go to MySpace and Facebook primarily to hang out with friends. 20somethings go to get laid. Both groups use the sites to keep up with what’s going on in their social world – where the parties are, what gossip is key, etc. White collar workers go to LinkedIn for career purposes. Unfortunately, there’s no really good social network site there to meet the needs of the older contingent. (This should make the VC ears perk up – when are we going to start designing for the retirees? And why do i have a funny feeling that this isn’t going to happen until the Baby Boomers start bitching?)

Keep in mind, this was written in 2007, just before Facebook burst onto the scene.

From an economic standpoint, niche customers often are not the most profitable. Public companies are required to grow, not just maintain profitability. They must go for the masses. Facebook’s opening up to the masses beyond college was resisted by early users. The market values growth, but the cost of growth is a loss of user passion. Big tech uses “lock-in” strategies, such as cellphone contracts, to force users to stick around when their passion fades. These corporate practices affect how systems are designed, deployed, allowed to evolve.

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

Scholz: ‘The Participatory Challenge’

In “The Participatory Challenge,” Trebor Scholz explores the nature of “Extreme Sharing Networks,” or ESNs. These are self-organized and autonomous networks that support the development of sustainable relationships that empower us to lead fulfilled and engaged lives. They allow people to meet freely in the commons, to mobilize and share talents, context and resources.
Most importantly, ESN need to be meaningful in order to attract contributors. This encourages the creation of informal and formal relationships among individuals within the network.
Such social networks need to allow for co-ownership, because an insistence on exclusive ownership “kills the motivation of co-participants.”
This reading underscores the importance of transparency and sharing in the commons. In the “Friendster History and Introduction” post, we learned that Friendster put its focus on an individual’s profile, which may have proven too isolating. Facebook may have exploded in popularity at least in part because it offered a more open and connected experience.
This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

Highsmith: ‘Structural Collaboration’

In chapter 10 of his book “Adaptive Software Development,” James Highsmith III looks at how to create circumstances in which emergent results can occur. He concludes that the best type of system for this is one that borders on chaos.

The maximum size for an adequate level of collaboration and sharing is about 200-300 people. (This may track well with average number of friends people have on Facebook?)
Five types of relationships are important to collaboration:

  1. Structural: How information elements are organized
  2. Reference: Linkages between pieces of information
  3. Classification: Creation of topic hierarchies
  4. Dependency: Important for project management
  5. Who-and-what: Between components and people (who has access to what components)

One key concept:
The richness of connectivity refers to the number of connections between people or teams and the type of data flow. Too few connections produce stagnation. Too many, instability. Connectivity is a function of both content and context. Content comes from the data, while context comes from the information and experience that help the recipient interpret and understand the data.

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.
 

Oosterhuis: ‘Hyperbodies’

In “Hyperbodies: Towards an E-motive Architecture,” Kas Oosterhuis explores the sea of data that we swim in.

Oosterhuis says that we must train our intuition in order to swim in this sea of data. We need a “hotline” that connects our intuition and logic. We don’t need to worry about information overload. The way we interface with this data is akin to being immersed in a jungle: You may miss details but the overall experience is still taken in on some level.
This process is data-driven. Knowing the rules (understanding the interface) allows you to develop your intuition.

One lesson we might take away from this for social media that that confusing interfaces probably don’t help. MySpace, with its heavy HTML-based page structure, isn’t the most friendly interface for users. Did this contribute to its decline?

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

Lovink and Schneider: ‘Notes on the State of Networking’

Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider explore concepts that are very germane to social media in “Notes on the State of Networking.”

They argue the following:

  • The goal of networking is to free the user from the bonds of locality and identity.
    Flexible attitudes, fluid differences are at play in networking.
    You can’t model, or freeze the network in time. (Here we see echoes of Deleuze and Guattari’s “Rhizomatics.”)
    Networks often start as novel and exciting, but then flatline. They must at some point become a body capable of sustained existence.

Friendster and MySpace followed this arc. Friendster completely collapsed, whereas MySpace was able to achieve some level of sustained existence. How, though, did Facebook surpass them, and will Google+ be able to last beyond the phase of novelty?

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.