Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger's Wikipedia morphed out of their original 2001 idea - Nupedia - which had an amazingly bureaucratic process of vetting & approvals before content could be published - if you ever been on a standards writing committee you will know what it feels like... it was overtaken by its offshoot Wikipedia .. "a hybrid of tool and community" p 136
However it actually followed the first user-editable Wiki developed by Ward Cunningham in 1996 predicated on the then radical assumption "groups of people who want to collaborate also tend to trust one another. If this was true, then a small group could work on a shared writing effort without needing formal management or process" p 111.
Interestingly Wikipedia was conceived as an open encyclopedia .. becoming "a general-purpose tool for gathering and distributing information quickly, a use that further cemented Wikipedia in people's mind as a useful reference work" p 117
I find it intriguing when fellow techo professionals pronounce that one shouldn't use Wikipedia as a professional resource let alone cite it - personally I choose to do so - as a first pass - Dummy's entry point if I have to learn something new - like Non Tariff - Technical Barriers to Trade at the World Trade Organization. It's easy to read - commonsense approach helped me enormously to get started as I tried to navigate the WTO & EU web sites - ultimately I created a wiki in Sharepoint - like a breadcrumb trail to find my way in and out of these seemingly impenetrable maze-like sites.
And my Teen finds the same works for her - she really likes Wikipedia but knows that she needs to cite other more acceptable & reputable sources !
The driver for me in creating wiki pages in Sharepoint was just as Shirky described for Wikipedia ...
"Someone decides that an article .... should exist and creates it. The article's creator doesn't need to know everything ... Once an article exists, it starts to get readers. Soon a self selecting group of those readers decide to become contributors. Some of them add new text, edit the existing article, some add references to other articles or external sources, and some fix typos.. No one person was responsible for doing or even managing the work " p118-119 . Shirky describes the wiki format as a form of "publish-then filter". - p 135
And so the wiki and its wiki pages seem as though they are becoming a fascinating & evolving series of mosaics - where sometimes you can't see the whole immediately.
Pic 1 Athens - Pic 2 & 3 Delphi Mosaics - Pic 4 Istanbul Topkapi Palace - Pics 5 & 6 Istanbul Hagya Sophia
In fact I find with my org's Sharepoint pages that not everyone wants to edit online but they may tell you verbally or email you suggestions. It seems that many struggle with the concept of "publish-then filter" - preferring to edit repeatedly before publishing. I recall attending a Knowledge Management Round Table where attendees at my table felt too afraid to embrace the "publish-then filter" approach.
This seems to align with Shirky who describes participation in Wiki activities as following a power law distribution - others call it the 90-9-1 Law - ie 1% of folks will initiate content, 9% may comment or amend it and 90% (sometimes called the Lurkers) will only read it but not initiate nor amend. Similarly - this probably reflects public involvement in government consultation initiatives - how some government bureaucrats bewail the "self-selected".
And it explains why Twitter remains highly successful - even if most users don't tweet - they may still value reading the tweets of others they respect. Same effect showed up when my org's ICT surveyed users about one of our Communities of Practice - more folks liked to read, even if they didn't contribute themselves. I shared this with my Management Team yesterday when we began reviewing the state of our Knowledge Sharing programme
"you can't look for a representative contributor, because none exists. Instead, you have to change your focus, to concentrate not on the individual users but on the behaviour of the collective" p 128
Shirky also suggests that this power law effect is what lies behind Chris Anderson's Long Tail. Reflecting further he distinguishes between tightly connected small groups and those larger ones with weak ties drawing the wedding reception analogy where the bride and groom can only "talk to most of the guests for just a few minutes" - p 130.
So the tool is there with Wikipedia & other wikis - but why do people bother - when there are no financial incentives ? But then why do some folks volunteer to coach kids sporting teams or in Australia deliver "Meals on Wheels " to older frail folks ?
Shirky suggests 3 reasons : to use some unused capabilities, vanity and to do a good thing. He also argues that "Wikipedia exists because enough people love it" p 141
And the nagging question - does anyone care about the wiki contributions anyway ? According to Shirky "Wikis reward those who invest in improving them. This explains why both experts and amateurs are willing to contribute" p 135
His final words in this chapter ...
"When people care enough, they can come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love .. " p 142 - in this case for the concept of what Wikipedia means.