history of wikipedia and features

Sali, a student from H802, posted a link to Slashdot | The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir, by Larry Sanger. It’s a two-part article worth serious consideration, not the least for the development of Wikipedia out of Nupedia. Sanger covers WikiCulture, elitism, credibility and authority, among other matters.

He highlights some of the social interactions that the design of wiki software encourages and discourages:

Typical wiki culture aside, wiki software does encourage, but does not strictly require, extreme openness and de-centralization: openness, since (as the software is typically designed) page changes are logged and publicly viewable, and (again, only typically) pages may be further changed by anyone; de-centralization, because in order for work to be done, there is no need for a person or body to assign work, but rather, work can proceed as and when people want to do it. Wiki software also discourages (or at least does not facilitate) the exercise of authority, since work proceeds at will on any page, and on any large, active wiki it would be too much work for any single overseer or limited group of overseers to keep up. These all became features of Wikipedia.

And, in part ii he reviews some of the factors that got Wikipedia working – among them, two factors that many new to wikis resist:

5. Collaborate radically; don’t sign articles. Radical collaboration, in which (in principle) anyone can edit any part of anyone else’s work, is one of the great innovations of the open source software movement. On Wikipedia, radical collaboration made it possible for work to move forward on all fronts at the same time, to avoid the big bottleneck that is the individual author, and to burnish articles on popular topics to a fine luster.

6. Offer unedited, unapproved content for further development. This is required if one wishes to collaborate radically. We encouraged putting up their unfinished drafts–as long as they were at least roughly correct–with the idea that they can only improve if there are others collaborating. This is a classic principle of open source software. It helped get Wikipedia started and helped keep it moving. This is why so many original drafts of Wikipedia articles were basically garbage (no offense to anyone–some of my own drafts were sometimes garbage), and also why it is surprising to the uninitiated that many articles have turned out very well indeed.

Sanger suggests that these strategies allowed Wikipedia to move forward quickly. They also run against a lot of what we teach – and have learned – about writing. Don’t sign sign my work? Put out unedited work for comment? These ideas challenge what it is to be professional. But they also seem to be the main ideas behind both weblogs and wikis.

Might be time to unlearn something.

I’m going to adapt Sanger’s observations about what make Wikipedia work and roll them into the StyleGuide on Weblogs and Wikis for next spring.