Takeaways from The Wikipedia Revolution

I’ve been reading Andrew Lih’s 2009 book The Wikipedia Revolution and finding it still has some great insights about how the encyclopedia got started and the encyclopedia’s key philosophical underpinnings.

Here are some key takeaways thus far with the relevant page numbers in case anyone else is interested:

  • Freedom of Cyberspace. “The tech elite who first developed the Internet believed strongly in the freedom of cyberspace, in both aspects of ‘free’–free as in beer, and free as in freedom. Wikipedia continues that tradition by being disseminated widely and linked to extensively on the Internet.” p. 5
  • NPOV. “Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales refers to having a ‘neutral point of view’ (NPOV) as the community’s only ‘nonnegotiable’ policy, which ‘attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree.” p. 6 (Question: Is this sort of like Wikipedians saying that the only thing they don’t tolerate is intolerance?)
  • Co-Labor; Single Common Article Entry. “The founders of Wikipedia had an impetus to be ‘co-labor instead of anti-labor,’ to prevent separate agendas splitting the site into polarized factions. Therefore, it was decided early on that there could be only one version of each article presented at any single time. Participants had to work toward a single common article entry. Differing parallel versions of an article on [[Islam]] would serve no one well–it would simply be too easy for factions to go off in their own biased corners.” p. 6
  • Learning Through Editing. “For many Wikipedians, the act of participating in article making is also an example of learning. This is a dynamic most outside readers don’t often see or experience. Writing about subjects while abiding by Wikipedia’s neutral point of view (NPOV) requires research, critical thinking, and weighing the facts. Contributors often find themselves learning by editing, simply because they are required to cite sources, read others’ contributions, and decide how the article can be reshaped or balanced to adhere to NPOV.” – p. 111
  • The Non-Negotiable Policy. “Neutral Point of View (NPOV) is the only nonnegotiable policy in Wikipedia, according to Jimmy Wales. It’s what makes people work together: converging while collaborating.” – p. 113
  • Motivations of Wikipedians. Lih cites Yale law professor Yochai Benkler’s theory of commons-based peer production. “He asserts the motivation comes from two main things other than money: the ‘socio-psychological’ reward of interacting with others, and the ‘hedonic’ personal gratification of the task.” Note: Hedonic means enjoyment and pleasure; that is, Wikipedians edit because they like it. – p. 109