Apr 4, 2009

Wikinography Part 1: Open Sails, At World’s End

So I was assigned an ethnography last quarter, and I decided to make it the online variety. It was an interesting and enlightening experience, although I think I can take a little break from Wikipedia now. I broke the paper up into small, easily digestible morsels, which is perfect for a blog format. I'll be posting it in bits over the next couple weeks. All of the parts combined are basically what my final paper for the class looked like. Enjoy. – DC

There I was, the mouse in my hand as dangerous as any time bomb. I was but a few clicks away from launching ship into the vast recesses of the Wikipedian underbelly. For years I had used Wikipedia idly, mostly in passing as a reference on subjects of straightforward curiosity. But even my use of Wikipedia as an idle reference goes so far back that I can scarcely recall a time I was completely unaware of its existence. I’m nothing exceptional: This is how engrained Wikipedia has become in the lives of many youths. But my relationship with Wikipedia was about to change; concealed beneath the relatively pristine surface of Wikipedia lay the apparatus of an expansive computer-mediated social world, one replete with jargon, unique practices and new imaginings of digital relationship.

In the course of my ethnography I would speak to several editors on Wikipedia while simultaneously taking part in some minor Wikipedia editing myself. Like me, most of the editors I spoke to had initially become aware of Wikipedia as a resource without contributing their owns edits. Even after becoming aware of their ability to contribute, most editors conveyed to me that they had forgone editing for some time thereafter. Unlike me, by the time I spoke to each of these editors, they had become abundantly successful on the English Wikipedia (if not translingually successful). Though it is not an official term on Wikipedia, I use the term ‘prolific editor’, without any hard and fast criteria, to refer to currently active editors with a hefty edit count, in many cases on significant articles.


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