Good Faith Collaboration & Wikipedia

All rules and guidelines add up to this; Respect! — Phoenix 15’s Law

The English-Language Wikipedia

  • The wiki evolved from Ward Cunningham’s user-editable pattern repository—which started in 1995 and became known as the Portland Pattern Repository—which became a useful documentation tool for writing an encyclopedia.
  • Benefit of wikis: ability to easily document one’s world satisfies a deep need in some and placates the fear that doom might be averted if we learn from our mistakes:

“we need to document…so that we know what we are doing. If we do not document, we cannot learn from our history, and are doomed to repeat it.”

  • Wikis are still a relatively new way of working together. The work is online, asynchronous, possibly anonymous, incremental, and cumulative.
  • Another Benefit: due to the above point, contribution can be as marginal as fixing a typo on a page that hasn’t been touched in months. Changes can be reverted so contributors can be bold in action and not wounded in response to the actions of others.
  • In addition to the technology, it is the community’s collaborative culture that determines what its future holds.
  • The collaborative culture asks its participants to assume two circumstances: a stance of neutral point of view on matters of knowledge, and a stance of good faith toward one’s fellow contributors.
  • There is often a disconnect between written policy and actual practice within organizations. Reagle argues that wikis help to close the gap between policy and practice.

Dissention about what Wikipedia should be:

  • Deletionism: rigorous criteria for uniformly worthwhile article must be met, otherwise delete
  • Mergism: merge challenged information into an existing article rather than have it stand alone
  • Essentialism: include traditionally nonencyclopedic information but only if it is notable and verifiable
  • Inclusionism: keep as long as an article has some merit.

Wikis: practice and policy:

  • Regenerative or recursive community: consists of feedback of positive research results to improve the means by which the researchers themselves can pursue their work. Internet communities also function through a form of social imaginary, changing the means of discourse, through which social existence is collectively conceived.
  • In Wikis the practice of creating an encyclopedia and its reification in documenting the community’s practice are basically simultaneous and coexist together. This is kind of revolutionary because in most organizations the two are out of sync and the believed process is dramatically different than the actual practice.

Function of dissent and conflict:

  • Legal Scholar Cass Sunstein argues that: “dissent is a critical and generative contribution to society. According to Reagle, this relates to how conflict is not resolved but managed. It is recognized that consensus and dissensus each have an important and unavoidable role in the community.
  • Wikipedia is like Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities as they are characterized by Steven Weber: conflict is not unusual in the community it’s inherent to the open source process.

Three levels of authority in Wikipedia norms:

  • Essays: nonauthoritative pages containing useful insights
  • Guidelines: actionable norms approved by general consensus
  • Policy: more official than guidelines and less likely to have exceptions
  • The enforceable difference between a policy and guideline is not always clear. “Assume Good Faith” has been depreciated from policy to guideline because AGF is rarely actionable as it involves assumptions about the motives of others. Civility remains a policy because it can be tested against objective features of behavior.”

Collaborative Culture:

  • Culture as: the way of life of a people; a value-laden system of meaning making through which a community understands and acts, including its own maintenance and reproduction.
  • Collaboration: the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own. Collaboration creates a shared meaning about a process, a product, or an event.
  • Compares to Participatory culture, which consumer-only fans of commercial genres are now creators within their own fandom communities. Participatory culture is defined by low barriers of engagement, support for creation and sharing, and some form of mentorship or socialization, and members believe that their contributions matter and they feel some degree of social connection to one another.

Neutral Point of View:

  • Makes subject matter of a collaborative encyclopedia compatible
  • Neutral stance: describe the controversy rather than taking part in it.
  • Neutral POV should be understood as a social concept of cooperation. It can help avoid a lot of philosophical debates.
  • Maintain a dispassionate, open-minded stance about claims as a means of dealing with conflicting views.
  • With controversial topics: state “there are related social controversies which may merit their own articles.”

Good Faith:

  • Makes it possible to work together
  • Seeing others humanity
  • Yochai Benkler and Helen Nissenbaum’s argument that while virtue may lead people to participate in such projects “Participation may also give rise to virtue”
  • Breaks good faith into four virtues or behaviors:
  • Assume the best:

We often attribute the failures of others as evidence of a character flaw, but our own failings are constructed as a circumstance of the environment; I succeed because of my genius and fail because of bad luck, whereas you succeed by chance and fail by your own faulty character.

We assume good faith as a way of creating good faith: some people might be trolling, be an angry storm cloud, working at cross-purposes or be confused by a lack of transparency, however even when these occurrences seem obvious, assume the best. Assuming good faith helps set social expectations: “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.” This all includes: treat others as you want to be treated and if you can’t understand another’s perspective assume you’re missing something, don’t blame them. Wikilove: we share a love of knowledge and we treat everyone who shares the same love with respect and goodwill

  • Act with patience: a well-working collaborative culture can be characterized by patience with participants who do not escalate conflict. The technology of wiki itself furthers patience as a change can always be reversed.
  • Act with civility: After patience runs out, act with respect. Civility acts as both a baseline for building a culture of good faith and as a last line of defense against escalation. “a lack of civility has the same effect on good faith that termites have on wooden houses.”
  • Try to maintain a sense of humor: humor is not a guideline or policy of Wikipedia but it serves as the true last resort when faced with maddening circumstances. Wikipedia itself is the butt of many jokes. Reagle describes humor as an instance of intellectual joy. Sarcasm is an exception because text doesn’t convey attitude.

“Sarcasm works really well in online media because it’s so easy to pick up on without all of those pesky extratextual cues. It’s hard to see how the employment of sarcasm could possibly be counterproductive” -from “Sarcasm is Really Helpful” essay.

Five Pillars:

  • Wikipedia: an encyclopedia incorporating both general and specialized information. Articles must strive for verifiable accuracy. Provide references. Unreferenced material may be removed. Wikipedia is not the place to insert personal opinions, experiences, or arguments.
  • Norms of Neutrality: neutral point of view and non-biased. This might require representing multiple points of view. When conflict arises regarding neutrality, “cool-down, tag the article as disputed, hammer out details on the talk page, and follow dispute resolution.”
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone may edit
  • Code of Conduct/ “good faith”: Respect fellow Wikipedians even when you don’t agree with them .BE CIVIL. Avoid conflicts of interest, personal attacks, and sweeping generalizations. Find consensus and avoid edit wars. Act in good faith; never disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point. Assume good faith on the part of others.
  • Be bold in editing, moving, and modifying articles. It should be the aim, but perfection is not required. Don’t worry about mistakes. In most cases all prior versions of articles are kept, so there is no way that you can accidentally damage or irretrievably destroy content.

Discussion Questions:

  • Regale states that the five pillars are the most complete and sensitive summary of Wikipedia norms. Are they complete and comprehensive? Does any of it possibly contradict itself or the ways in which Wikipedia is actually in practice?
  • Is it naïve to expect people to be neutral and act in good faith on Wikipedia? What about other areas of the internet?
  • Out of the methods to keep good faith which do you find most useful or use most often? Assume the best/stupidity rather than malice, patience, civility, or humor?
  • Anything else we want to discuss: maybe how wiki collaboration is compared to fandom communities…

Extra notes:

  • HyperCard: an Apple application that was a popular hypertext system before the Web; it relied on the metaphor of stacked index cards. The system was too rigid. It did not allow for what Cunningham wanted which was a place to talk about what did not yet exist. Which leads to the “red link” on wikis that point to a page not yet filled with content.
  • The “stub” is more commonly seen as there are less “red links” over the years. Stubs are articles with a few sentences or a paragraph. Author and commentator Nicholson Baker calls the stub an unusually humble ask for help.
  • In a related note: Cunningham used actual index cards to aid people in collaborative meetings with discussing their processes and requirements. You can spread them out, write on them, pass them around, manage them, and point to a blank card as missing information (like the “red link”-“they had need for a name for something they didn’t know how to say”). “Handling the cards prompted information sharing between participants regardless of their status within the organization”—sounds like a wiki!


Reagle, Joseph M. Chapter 3 of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia. MIT, 2010.    

2 thoughts on “Good Faith Collaboration & Wikipedia

  1. I love the way you organized this–it is extremely easy to follow the highlights of the reading. It’s especially useful to see your notes about red links, stubs, and the historical significance of Hypercard. And Hypercard probably leads us back even further to Vannevar Bush’s memex. His important essay on information management, “As We May Think,” is available here if you’re interested.


    1. Thank you. There is so much important information in his article. I wanted to make sure I covered as much as possible in the blog, but I knew we’d never have time to discuss it all in class. So I focused on the main overreaching points of neutrality and good faith.


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