Wikipedia and "produsers"

A while back at work I suggested we look at moving our entire Encyclopedia to Wikipedia.org. My position has not changed. I still think we should do just that.

Putting the content up on Wikipedia.org gives it MUCH wider exposure than our website ever can and it therefore has the potential to bring new users to our website that may not even know we exist (via links in to our own web content). With a wikipedia.org user account, we can maintain an appropriate amount of control over the content (more than we have at present over wikipedia content that started as ours, already put up there by others).

Another point is that putting it up on Wikipedia allows us to engage the assistance of various volunteers who’d like to help us, but don’t live locally. I’ve been approached by a few keen volunteers who don’t live locally only recently and I think they’d do a good job for us in both maintaining content and generating new content (which we could edit when needed).

It isn’t urgent, but I think we could make some progress on at least a trial.

Adam our web developer has suggested a few things that we need to do before we start using wikipedia.org:

Some colleagues here said they liked the idea of hosting our own wiki like The (UK) National Archives Your Archives wiki, but they are also supportive of moving our encyclopedia to Wikipedia. One person has started working through existing entries and tidying them up to make sure links are up to date and the sources and references are included for the entries. The motivation to do was that Wikipedians can challenge and/or remove unsourced material.
In a lot of cases we don’t currently list the sources for entries so we are going back to the background material we have for the entry and if that doesn’t exist we may recreate the research. This has made the process slower than we had expected.

As we look further into this and begin to examine some of the issues of “ownership”, reliability and “endorsed” wikipedia entries, a read of a very recent post about such matters via the ABC Digital Futures blog would seem advisable. At first glance one might think that this is a bit of a long bow to draw, because it is focused on the digital future of the national broadcaster and it discusses a model of participation regarding travel advisory websites, but when you think about it, many of the principles apply in a much broader sense and to us us as we look at moving our encyclopedia to a more open and participatory environment.

The whole Lonely Planet model is very similar to our situation. Indeed, our existing top-down model of the publication (in various forms) of Australian military history guides, magazines and books could well be undermined in much the same way as the environment in our own small world shifts from military history for the people to one of military history by the people.
The author/presenter is Alex Bruns and you can read his full text online here.

  1. In recognising that everybody has a valuable contribution to make, and as he encourages us not to be afraid of it, Alex says there are four preconditions that are needed:
    the replacement of a hierarchy with a more open participatory structure;
  2. recognising the power of the COMMUNITY to distinguish between constructive and destructive contributions;
  3. allowing for random (granular, simple) acts of participation (like ratings); and
  4. the development of shared rather than owned content that is able to be re-used, re-mixed or mashed up.

So, throughout his article he uses the term “produser” to describe the participants in such a community. It is all about true collaboration, engagement, and the shared development of content.

Finally, he suggests these four principles for anyone seeking to successful and sustainable participatory environments (mind the big words):

  1. Open Participation, Communal Evaluation – inclusive, not exclusive
  2. Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy – from a hierarchy to leadership based on accumulated merit that is recognised by the whole community
  3. Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process – evolutionary development of articles; nothing is ever truly “finished”
  4. Common Property, Individual Rewards – tangible outcomes for individual contributors.

The reasons we need to get involved in the broader wikipedia community are basically two: firstly it is inevitable that it will grow as a community and if we are to have any influence at all we need to be involved; and secondly, we do not have the resources to be involved in two communities by managing one on our own site as well. Wikipedia is the pick (at least in my mind) because it has much more potential reach and exposure than we ever will. I think it is overly pessimistic to look at the worst possible case scenario (of extensive and malicious damage to entries) in this instance. Moving our encyclopedia to wikipedia should not be looked at as a surrender.

Recently in D-Lib there was a good example of an institution (University of Washington Libraries) using wikipedia to promote digital collections by using deep links back into their site. See Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections.

4 comments

  1. Mia

    Hi Mal,I’m really intrigued by your suggestion to use Wikipedia to publish your encyclopedia. Will you be blogging about the progress (or otherwise) of the project?cheers, Mia

  2. Mal Booth

    Hi Mia, thanks for the comment and also the post on your blog. I’ve been away in Meblourne recently and had no web access, partly because it was a short holiday, but also because wireless access was n’t possible in my apartment and broadband was still way too expensive for short term access. I think that pricing really has a hige impact on the way Australians use the web.Anyway, I’ll be continuing to post about the progress on moving our own content towards Wikipedia. It may not come off, but it already has some momentum from a lot of us with “positions of influence”. I’ve had some more good thoughts recently hat I want to share and interestingly enough they came together after a chamber orchestra concert in Canberra the night before leaving for a long weekend in Melbourne. Please keep reading,Mal

  3. pfctdayelise

    Hi Mal,My name’s Brianna, I’m a Wikipedia editor and your idea sounds hugely interesting.I don’t know how well into Wikipedia you are, but if you ever have any questions about that side of it, I would be more than happy to try and help out.I’ll be reading with interest to see how it progresses.

  4. Mal Booth

    Thanks Brianna, we are currently busy learning more about using Wikipedia and also cleaning up some of the material in our encyclopedia so that it may be moved in accordance with your standards. A colleague is engaged in this work, so I’ll let her know that you have offered some advice if we get stuck. Thanks,Mal

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