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Learning from Wikipedia

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There is no shortage of obvious reasons why an open project like Wikipedia cannot possibly be successful. But somehow it is. Whatever its faults may be, it is a thriving and visible community.

Somehow they must have done something right.

I think we can learn a lot from the way Wikipedia operates. Wikipedia exists in many languages, each of which has its own method of governance. Here I concentrate on the English Wikipedia.

Wikipedia advertizes itself as "the encyclopedia anyone can edit". That is a strength: there are no barriers to contributing, which is very inviting. It is also a weakness: it invites vandals as well. Yet this openness is the key difference with its predecessor Nupedia, and the later Citizendium project. Both projects required contributors to be recognized experts. Citizendium still slogs on, but neither project got much traction. Wikipedia now has four million encyclopedia articles.

Wikipedia's openness does not stop with the encyclopedia articles. There is a set of core policies, other policies, and guidelines, all of which were created in a hierarchy-free consensus-based collaborative effort. Quite recently, the wording of the Verifiability core policy was changed after a month-long discussion. I just made some changes to their “What Wikipedia is not” policy, changes that I think are a (minor) improvement; let's see if they stick – anyone who does not see this as an improvement can undo these changes with just a few mouse clicks. Thus, Wikipedia is a good example of a collaborative environment that is truly self-managed.

Compared to Wikipedia, our present IOPS website is relatively closed. Most members cannot edit most texts or documents on most pages. I'd like to create a page for listing and reviewing relevant literature, such as Noam Chomsky's Making the Future. On Wikipedia I can do that (technically; such a page is likely to get deleted because it has no clear relevance to the Wikipedia project), and then anyone can edit that page and add material to the list. Here, where it is clearly relevant, I can't create such a page by myself.

Let's throw the whole thing open. I am sure together we can manage that.

Discussion 14 Comments

  • Sarah Owens 30th Jul 2012

    Could one not create a project that would list and review literature relevant to IOPS?

  • Alex of... 30th Jul 2012

    "Wikipedia is a good example of a collaborative environment that is truly self-managed."

    very true. it takes a process of collaboration to establish basic standards and rules, such as the 5 Pillars. it's a constant organic method to find the best possible outcome. an iops wiki could be added.

    http://www.iopsociety.org/forum/the-site/making-wiki .

    it could be used for anything from literature reviews, expansions of the visionary principles, parsoc, ecology, listing organizations relevant to the iops vision from local to international, alternative jobs such as in the project:

    http://www.iopsociety.org/projects/find-non-hierarchical-work .

    which again could be organized from local up or by category, depending how members create and expand over time. and many other things relevant as members and chapters see fit.

    so yes, a project can be made on literature, and i see no reason why not, but a wiki can be constantly reorganized. wiki concepts could also be incorporated into projects as well.. multiple admins and editing (that takes some work). but since there is free wiki software that 'could' be installed on the iops site, it might be worth it to explore. it's a simple installation for something like Tiki Wiki.

    it would probably take a project to also organize how to approach a wiki to go hand-in-hand with having one, too. those that are familiar could help others out in the basics, and wikipedia can be used as a model. but that depends on if it would be installed in the first place.

    • David Jones 31st Jul 2012

      Yes please to a wiki on alternative jobs :-) We have so many experienced activist on IOPS and/or people that have figured out, in one way or another, how to balance their activism against their need to engage, to some extent, with the existing structures (just in order to have food and shelter). As one of our member (Boyd) said elsewhere, quoting Bill Ayers, the key question is:

      "How will you live your life so that it doesn't make a mockery of your values?"

      We should start putting all of the thoughts and info we have on that question together, to help bewildered people such as myself tackle it. To me, it feels like too enormous a question to handle individually.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 31st Jul 2012

    The wikification of IOPS idea sounds great to me, very democratically self-managing.

  • 31st Jul 2012

    any more detailed accounts of wikipedia's early days available?

  • 31st Jul 2012

    "An Error Was Encountered
    The URI you submitted has disallowed characters."

    that has happened a few times when i try and click links on the site... will go back to the main page and search... just noting the bug

  • 31st Jul 2012

    I’ve got a few questions, which may just be to due to my lack of familiarity with Wikipedia and how edits are managed, so bear with me.

    Relative to Wikipedia the documents on the IOPS website are comparatively less editable, but then Wikipedia and IOPS don’t function for the same purpose, so is that relevant?

    In other words, while Wikipedia strives to accumulate up-to-date knowledge in one place, IOPS and its founding documents hope to grow a radical social movement based on the framework of those documents. It makes sense to continually update and add information to Wikipedia to maintain its accuracy and relevance, but is it appropriate for an organization’s founding documents to be opened up for continual edit?

    If I joined based on the content of those documents, and then someone newly joining changes them to something else, that may impact my original decision to join. That’s not to imply they should never be modified, only that that it should be done in manner consistent with self-management, preferably in a face-to-face collaborative setting where people can express their opinion and debate the merits of any proposed changes. Does Wikipedia allow for this type of online exchange?

    By the way, reference material relevant to IOPS can be added by uploading to the site’s “Resource” section. To open up a discussion on the merits of that material, I agree with Sarah: start a project.

    • Alex of... 31st Jul 2012

      wikipedia is more than just updating knowledge, it's about the collaboration to define it based on perspectives and inputs to create better understanding. that's an ongoing process. yes, there becomes rules of respect and restrictions to change. those could be made, slightly different to wikipedia to apply to iops. but, if one person writes their definition of why germany invaded poland, others can weigh in and debate and create methods for constructive ways to do so. and certain matters can be controversial or need citation etc.

      there are the 5 pillar, for example. if for IOPS, we could use some of those same ideas to apply but make our own. learn from what that successful growing community has done. it's not about taking away, it's about expanding. you may have come here for what was created by a few, but you can use a wiki to make them even better together. argue your points in a wiki if they seem to be not to the principle of any particular subject. and the usefulness goes well beyond the visionary statements. a wiki has many applications that could apply to IOPS.

      in addition.. currently, we may need a better way to organize the reference material (tagging and filters) as well as projects as well as ways to correlate both when necessary. those are actually things wikis are good at, but i don't mean that negatively, just saying :)

      so here for starter if not familiar:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars .



  • 31st Jul 2012

    It would be good to have a wiki, an easily edited encyclopedia is always nice to have.

    @John Vincent. On Wikipedia, I am mostly sure that changing the core values can only be done through voting. And there are also means against rogue editing and vandalism, the main documents of Wikipedia are mostly safe from unwarranted changes.

  • Lambert Meertens 1st Aug 2012

    Wikipedia operates by consensus (which they don't take to mean unanimity), which involves an open discussion but only rarely voting. Any editor can make changes to established core policies, but if that is a change of substance without prior discussion establishing consensus for the change, this will not be well regarded (unless it is overwhelmingly obvious to everyone that the change is an improvement) and it will be undone (which again anyone can do). An editor who regularly engages in such disruptive behaviour is bound to have their editing privileges revoked for increasingly longer periods.

    All Wikipedia policy discussions are text-based and held online; while chapters may hold meetups and there is an annual conference (Wikimania), they are not used as a channel for decision making on Wikipedia policies.

  • 8th Oct 2013

    I think a Wiki is a perfect idea for IOPS. The Wiki software is used for all sorts of things - it's a powerful tool, and would lower barriers to participation within IOPS.