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Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

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Last Updated November 22, 2005.

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

May 30, 2005

Wikipedia, one of many voices but not the only voice to which you should listen

Free Range Librarian has posted a spot on post, in my humble opinion, about Wikipedia.

Librarians are very open to all kinds of information, but when librarians recommend books, databases, websites, or other resources to patrons who are looking for specific information, we look for information we can trust. Because of this, our gardens need tending (gatekeeping, if you will). Librarians go through book collections routinely to get rid of books on, for example, East Germany, and at the website I manage, we ruthlessly purge one website for every three we add. I consider it the highest praise when a user complains about a site to say "it's not up to our usual standards." That means not only do we internally think we have standards, but our users do too.

I concur with the points made in the post, and I recommend you read the original.

Wikipedia is definitely a source I use, but I use it with open eyes. I use it because my research is often ahead of printed encyclopedias, even specialized ones. So I use Wikipedia to ground my definition of terms that are likely new to my audience. However invariably the terms are not new to me, and that is an important point. I don't use Wikipedia for totally new information so I become part of the vetting process. AND I archive every time I use the citation so I have a copy of the text I envisioned when I choice to make the reference. I also include the date of access with the citation so it's as clear as I can make it to which version I am referring. If need be I can always include the relevant sections of the definition in a note to further add to the stability of the reference. Therefore I become the editor on some levels.

I have been surprised by the struggle surrounding the concept of the "editor." In my world editors are neither good or bad, they just exist. Having one does often increases the consistency of the entries across a volume - tone, language use, tense, etc. - be it an edited book or a journal or newspaper or an encyclopedia. But having an editor doesn't necessarily mean the information is more accurate; the biggest newspaper/magazine debacles where stories were falsified have happened with editors and when we moved in our house contained an old edition of Encyclopedia Britannica that listed the county seat of my county incorrectly and that too had editors.

Likewise not having an editor doesn't "improve" the quality of the information. Yes an editor can impose a personal frame on information but if removing the editor improves that than the writer would have to be bias-free to begin with and that just isn't how the world works. We all have biases, we just hope that many of us are on the look out for our own and try to find neutral territory before we write.

Of course academic research on Wikipedia has shown that some features of their "free" entries mirror their paper-based relatives. See:

Emigh, W., and Herring, S. C. (2005). Collaborative authoring on the Web: A genre analysis of online encyclopedias. Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38). Los Alamitos: IEEE Press.


This paper presents the results of a genre analysis of two web-based collaborative authoring environments, Wikipedia and Everything2, both of which are intended as repositories of encyclopedic knowledge and are open to contributions from the public. Using corpus linguistic methods and factor analysis of word counts for features of formality and informality, we show that the greater the degree of post-production editorial control afforded by the system, the more formal and standardized the language of the collaboratively-authored documents becomes, analogous to that found in traditional print encyclopedias. Paradoxically, users who faithfully appropriate such systems create homogeneous entries, at odds with the goal of open-access authoring environments to create diverse content. The findings shed light on how users, acting through mechanisms provided by the system, can shape (or not) features of content in particular ways. We conclude by identifying sub-genres of webbased collaborative authoring environments based on their technical affordances.

I expect I will continue to turn to Wikipedia for information but only in conjunction with other sources. Of course that is what we want anyway isn't it...multiple sources compared and contrasted?

Posted by prolurkr at May 30, 2005 08:40 AM

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