Session 7 Rules in the cyberspace

I am studying the Wikipedia community. This website has clear rules elaborating what the site is about, how to make the best use of it, how to contribute to Wikipedia, and how to give feedback and questions. The link is as follows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About. In brief, Wikipedia welcomes everyone’s contribution. Even if the contributor is not an expert of a topic, she/he still can express her/his own opinions without being afraid of making a mistake. Contributors are instructed to express neutral viewpoints and respect their fellow Wikipedians’ viewpoints. If there is a need for negotiation, Wikipedia provides the talk page and asks for the following of dispute resolution.

When examining the talk page of the topic: cheesecake, I found three examples of interpersonal conflicts and how users resolve them:

Example 1

User Leopardmon blanked the page due to vandalism. User Seaphoto mentioned there is no need to blank it because the page can be reverted to the latest unvandalized version. User Seaphoto even took a further action to call for page protection for the article.

Example 2

User expressed his/her disagreement with User Seaphoto and thought that Wikipedia violated its’ policy of neutral viewpoints. User Seaphoto did not discuss with User on the policy of neutral viewpoints; instead, User Seaphoto said he/she was reverting the talk page because User did not discuss about the subject but Wikipedia, which is irrelevant to the subject.

Example 3

User League X explained the reason he/she added some information to the Wikipedia page. User Seaphoto pointed out the problem of the way League X added information and suggested the alternative.

The three examples in Wikipedia illustrate the salient benefits of member maintenance:
1.      Peer oversight is proved to be an effective way to improve the quality of the posts (Cosley, 2005)
2.      The policies as guidelines influence the Wikipedian community and sustain it (Madison, 2006).
3.      The indoctrination of newbies by senior community members can increase site participation and social support (Gazan, 2009) since the reduction of low-quality content may more successfully keep valuable members and make contributors believe that their effort and contributions can lead to a better performance, representing part of the community’s performance (Cosley, 2005).
4.      The community’s self-awareness can intimidate potential roguish behaviors. If the number of rogues increases in a community, the overall participation in Wikipedia will very likely to fall (Gazan, 2007).

Example 1 and 3 show the sunny day of the users, who got the answers after interacting with other community users. Example 2 shows that the user wanted to discuss one of Wikipedia’s policies, but it turned out to be non-negotiable. If I were the administrator of Wikipedia, I would open a space for people like to discuss his/her thought about neutrality of viewpoints. I understand that for Wikipedia, it is easy to ask its members to follow the pre-set rules. However, according to Gazan (2009), open debate on normative standards can have positive effects on the community. So far, I do not find any unwritten rules because of the clear rules and well-functioning member maintenance of this website.


  1. Great insights! I thought that the first example was very interesting, as there was a little interpersonal conflict regarding the “blanking” of a page, which would appear to be a big “no no” on a site like Wikipedia. In this sense, the versions in history make a big difference for the community. I wonder how the community would have reacted if they did not have the different versions and the article was just completely deleted.

    The second example included the user’s opinions about Wikipedia itself, which was not pertinent to the article itself. I believe that it would be interesting to see how the edits would be taken if the viewpoints about Wikipedia were removed. I believe that this would demonstrate whether or not the user was correct when assuming that the Wikipedia violated its own policy.

    The issue about copyright on Wikipedia is an interesting one, as the user wanted credit for edits made. In this sense, I do wonder how many users want credit for adding items to Wikipedia.

    Overall, the oversight of Wikipedia seems to be moving the community in a specific direction, which may benefit the community. However, I wonder about the extent and impact of oversight on such a community that is about the community having control over the content. If this is the case, is there too much oversight?

  2. I think the blanking of a page in Wikipedia is an interesting function. As the user Seaphoto mentioned, "we can reverse it to the unvandalized version rather than blank it,"I think he has a point. Although eventually the vandalized page will not be read regardless of which method, reversion can direct the readers to a page with content on it; however, blanking will leave nothing for readers. If a reader does not know exaiming the page history to see the last unblanked version, he/she may fail to get what he/she wants by visiting the site. I think it will be good that Wikipedia open a space for discussing the standards of the community. I agree with you that it might be overreactive to remove any posts critisizing the site's policies.

  3. for such an established OC as Wikipedia, their communication rules and regulation are also very well established and complicated. Blanking an entry would not be a good idea too, in my opinion. That falls into a knee jerk reaction. Its better to revert to a previous version - you can do this even for simpler wiki-style website or googlesite.
    As for example 2, this shows the rigidity of the OC or just that particular moderator, and to show that there is a place for separate topics. In many OCs, when an entry is misplaced, the moderator can easily relocate it and leave a mark or message about it at its original posting location.
    In this kind of public OC with high traffic and general content highly sought after by surfers or searchers, it is important to have rather strict oversight to ensure accuracy, neutrality and relevancy. Due to past acts of vandalism, Wikipedia has tighten its oversight to make sure bad things do not get repeated.

  4. Interesting site, posts, and comments from others. I get sort of frustrated with wikipedia because of such rigid oversight (as illustrated in your second example), I have tried to edit pages before (on a topic that I knew a lot about and had good ciations, etc.) and they were edited before I could blink an eye. Wikipedia is a SNS but it is an extremely controlled one that I don't consider to be very "social," I do get it .. it is used by so many that it has to be strictly monitored to prevent vandalism but if users site their sources & they are credible, some of this content should be able to stay. And I agree, blanking a page is a bad idea -- if users coudl do this all the time, it would be very frustrating for anyone to contribute anything at all - it is supposed to a be a "collective" document.
    Thanks for your post.

  5. Thanks for all of your posts. Your feedback helps me look into Wikipedia in depth. I think the stricted rules and effective enforcement of the rules (like what Chris said, "they were edited before I could blink an eye") maintain the quality of the content in this website. This is; in return, a way to attract people to come to the site and keep old members using the site. As for the second and third example, I think there are the examples showing that online users should show their responsibility for the content they produce and the source their opnions are based on. As Erenst mentioned, Wikipedia has high traffic, it is a place for crowdsourcing. Even though crowdsourcing does not necessarily lead to a community due to the short-term commitment to the website. Crowdsourcing in Wikipedia paves the way to forming a community of the website. In other words, I think the management of Wikipedia has the features of quality control, responsibility awareness, and the hybrid of light weight peer production and high weight peer production.

  6. I think you chose a really good example for this blog, I can imagine that the field of cryptoozology would attract lots of controversy and also, a lot of very interesting characters, haha. Wikipedia probably deals with people like "unsigned" all too often, users who take offense to anything opposing their own point of view. Perhaps this person had some kind of agenda, and was out to make Wikipedia look like it had its own opposite agenda.

  7. Many of the students in the Library & information Science Program might find your examples familiar, as they parallel the process of what happens when a member of a library community challenges a book's appropriateness to be in the collection. In that case, there is generally a policy for people to submit a form to have a library "reconsider" a book, but rarely if ever are these challenges made publicly.

    To determine unwritten rules may require more of an insider's perspective on the types of claims, evidence and interactions that result in changes (or blanking) wikipedia entries. You can find this out by doing some Web or literature searches about the editing and review process, and in final projects I hope you and everyone will investigate site policies to that level of detail to ground your observations.

  8. Nice post! When it comes to wiki, I agree with your point that every thing here should be written in clear rules and maintain with well-functioning member, because it is a site where many people get their information from. Besides, the peer oversight model is working quite well here, and somehow very alike the way of censorship that works in an information environment.

  9. Thanks for Dr. Gazan’s suggestion. I googled online and did find there was a web page in Wikipedia talking about the unwritten rules (now which are called additional rules) of this website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Did_you_know/Additional_rules ). According to what is described on the page, the unwritten rules are made due to repeatedly discussions. They can represent the consensus of the community members. Like what the page said, “These additional rules are intended to describe the consensus, not to prescribe it.” In other words, the unwritten rules are different from the rules made by the website since the latter are regarded as policies that all online community members should follow. However, the former; in theory, are not as authoritative as the latter, but in practice, these unwritten rules are not less important than the official rules. Since those rules are what most online users agree, it is beneficial to people who want to be accepted by the old community members to follow them. On the Wikipedia page, there are nine categories of unwritten rules:
    1. Additional article length rules
    i.e. If some of the text was copied from another Wikipedia article, then it must be expanded fivefold as if the copied text had been a separate article.
    2 . Additional article link rules
    i.e. The hook must link to a qualifying article. "Qualifying" refers to the many rules (including these Additional Rules) regulating the quality of that article.
    3. Other additional rules for the hook
    i.e. Don't falsely assume that everyone worldwide knows what country or sport you're talking about.
    4. Other additional rules for the article
    i.e. Wikipedia, including Wikipedia in other languages, is not considered a reliable source.
    5. "Rules" sometimes invoked but lacking a consensus
    i.e. Does the first word always have to be "that"?
    6. Rules listed elsewhere but often overlooked
    i.e. The link to your article should be in bold type.
    7. Other recurring issues
    i.e. So why don't the additional rules combine with the other rules? Two answers: #1 is that they are combined with the other rules with a link. #2 is that we don't have a consensus on what to put into the integrated rules, in part because no one has proposed such an integration in a complete form.
    8. Additional rules for evaluating other people's hooks and articles
    i.e. You are not allowed to approve your own hook or article.
    9. Rules of thumb for preparing updates
    i.e. Don't be afraid to ruthlessly trim hooks of extraneous information and clauses.

    The unwritten rules in Wikipedia can be considered to be comprehensive. These rules, in a nutshell, center on the quality of the posts. For example, #8 says that one is not allowed to approve one’s own hook or article. However, it is difficult to avoid someone asking his/her friends to do him/her a favor. What’s interesting is that #4 says don’t treat Wikipedia as a reliable resource. In fact, there is a web page talking about the reliability issue of Wikipedia. Users are told to treat the articles in Wikipedia as a reference and encouraged to look up other resources for double check. Although Wikipedia says so, I believe many people give Wikipedia high credibility. It reflects what Paolo (2006) said that trust represents a social relationship between two entities of an online system. Since Wikipedia does its best to control the quality of the content, how much a user wants to trust it really depends upon how much he/she believes in the web of trust constructed in the website.