Network of Knowledge: Wikipedia as a Sociotechnical System of Intelligence
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study was to explore the codependencies of the social and technical structures that yield Wikipedia the website and Wikipedia the community. In doing so, the research investigated the implications of such a sociotechnical system for the maintenance of the project and the emergence of collective intelligence. Using a theoretical framework informed by digital media studies, science and technology studies, and the political economy of communication, this study examined the material and ideological conditions in which Wikipedia has developed. The study's guiding research questions addressed the nature of Wikipedia's sociotechnical system and potential for collective intelligence, as well as the historical development of the project's technical infrastructure and the state of its technology-assisted collaboration. A mainly qualitative multi-method research approach was employed, including document analysis, semi-structured interviewing, and social network analysis. A plethora of documents were carefully selected and examined to explore how and why decisions were made, policies implemented, and technologies adopted on the site. Additionally, 45 interviews were conducted with members of Wikipedia's technical community to understand the relationships between social and technical aspects of the project and the motivations of programmers who contribute automated tools. Finally, social network measures and visualizations were used to interrogate notions of collaboration and make more transparent the centrality of technology to the content creation process. The study revealed that Wikipedia's technical development has been shaped by the dueling ideologies of the open-source software movement and postindustrial capitalism. Its sociotechnical system features the complex collaboration of human contributors, automated programs, social bureaucracy, and technical protocol, each of which conditions the existence and meaning of the others. In addition, the activity on Wikipedia fits established models of collective intelligence and suggests the emergence of a cyberculture, or culturally informed shared intelligence, unique to the digital media context. Software robots (bots) are central actors in this system and are explored in detail throughout this research.