Sociocultural Implications of Wikipedia

Sociocultural Implications of Wikipedia

Ramanjit Singh (University of Manchester, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch179


Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia that operates worldwide on the Internet. Articles on Wikipedia are developed with close collaboration of volunteers and anyone can edit the content (Wikipedia, 2006e). Although there are many advantages of using Wikipedia as a group collaboration tool, there are important implications. First, Wikipedia community is diverse and intercultural differences can distort the communication process. Second, the neutral point of view (NPOV) policy can lead to disputes. Third, lack of supervision and open source policy can be another source of conflict. Forth, administration of articles can be complex due to differing cultural and political stand points (Smith & Kollock, 1999). Laslty, differences in time and space as well as low level of access to the Internet can significantly impede collaboration efforts at Wikipedia (Berry, 2006; Madon, 2000; Parayil, 2006; Sahay, Nicholson, & Krishna, 2003). Hence, the aim of this paper is to examine sociocultural implications of using Wikipedia as a group collaboration tool spanning multiple countries and how social and cultural climate, differences in time and space, as well as technological infrastructure of countries affect collaboration between individuals given the distinctive operational and administration policies at Wikipedia. It is believed that findings from this research will increase the awareness of the underlying cause of many disputes arising at Wikipedia. In addition, this research will lead to cultural relativism and provide neutral grounds for collaborative efforts at Wikipedia in the future.
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Wikipedia As Group Collaboration Tool

The wiki name has been borrowed from Hawaiian term “wikiwiki,” which means fast, swift, or quick (Wikipedia, 2006d). The father of wiki, Ward Cunningham, defined wiki as “a freely-expandable collection of interlinked Web pages, a hypertext system for storing and modifying information—a database, where each page is easily editable by any user” (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001, p. 14). In addition, wikis can be applied as a source for gaining information and knowledge, and also as a system for virtual collaboration (Boulos, Maramba, & Wheeler, 2006). Wikipedia is based on such technology and is often viewed as “wiki in action” (Boulos et al., 2006). Wikipedia was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on January 15, 2001, and can be defined as a free-content, Web-based encyclopedia, produced collaboratively by volunteers around the world (Wikipedia, 2006e). On July 1, 2006, the English edition of Wikipedia had nearly 1.3 million articles, which add up to 511 million words, and giving a total of 3 billion characters (Wikipedia, 2006g). Perhaps the open source policy and easily editable content maybe attributable for Wikipedia’s increasing popularity worldwide. Because anyone around the world can make edits on Wikipedia, some people may argue that it can lead to low quality of the content. However, it has been observed that articles forwarded to Wikipedia are of high quality. First, mostly academics and researchers have been attracted by this idea, thus a high quality of content is reflected in the articles. Second, numerous reviews are made, which increases content’s credibility. Then, Wikipedia has a policy which restricts articles to a neutral standpoint, which enables the content to be for a wide range of readers. Although initial policies were imposed by Wales and Sanger (founders of Wikipedia), today the community operates without much management interference.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Web Survey: An Internet survey mode with the questionnaire administered via the Web. When respondents answer the questionnaire using a Web browser, data are transmitted through the Internet network and stored on a Web-server database. Web surveys might be supported by modern Web technologies, enabling advanced questionnaire features, and the inclusion of multimedia elements. They present the most widely used survey mode based on contemporary ICT.

Internet Survey: A term covering a variety of computerized self-administered survey modes implemented using different Internet services. The most common Internet survey modes include e-mail surveys, Web surveys, WebTV surveys, and mobile Internet surveys. Of these, Web surveys are currently the most widespread.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR): Computerized self-administered survey in which respondents verbally answer the questions using a telephone. The system is based on speech-recognition technologies to identify responses provided by the survey participants.

Computerized Self-Administered Questionnaires (CSAQ): A broad term for all survey modes that are implemented using computer technology and completed by respondents themselves (without an interviewer). The questionnaire can be presented in a visual (textual), audio, or video format and administered using different technologies, including the Internet and mobile devices.

Intercept Recruiting: A method of inviting potential respondents to a Web survey based on intercepting visitors to a specific Web page. This can be done using pop-up windows, banner-ads, or some other Web-based technologies.

Mobile Computerized Self-Administered Questionnaires (MCSAQ): A special mode within the computerized self-administered survey modes with the questionnaire being delivered and administered to a respondent’s mobile device (usually a mobile phone or PDA). This might be done using SMS, MMS, or more convenient mobile Internet technologies.

Text-to-Speech: A technology that enables speech synthesis as an artificial production of speech on the basis of text. It might be used in survey research for the more cost-effective production of prerecorded audio questionnaires, customization of voices, and various other applications.

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