This post was originally published as an assignment for INFO 200 Information Communities at the School of Information at San José State University.
Wikipedians is the term used to describe the volunteer content editors and contributors on Wikipedia.org. On its surface, this widely used resource may not seem like an information community. We may tend to think of Wikipedia as the website to readily look up a quick fact, a likely source of skepticism, and certainly has been the target of quite a few jokes. However, when recognizing that it is the 200,000+ volunteer editors that power Wikipedia, then the community becomes very clear (Wikimedia Foundation). These contributors come together with the shared interest in producing content that is free to use and openly accessible. The hyperlinked nature of a Wikipedia entry demonstrates how interactive and collaborative it is.
“Wikipedians do a wide variety of tasks, from fixing typos and removing vandalism to resolving disputes and perfecting content, but are united in a desire to make human knowledge available to every person on the planet” (Wikipedia, 2020).
As one of the most visited websites worldwide, Wikipedia is the only one that is not for profit and its content is 100% user-generated. Richard Cooke of Wired magazine best describes it as “the closest thing there is to an online public square”, where the world can come together and talk, share, contribute, argue, and learn from one another (2020). Thus, Wikipedia’s users are united in their common interest in contributing to this forum. Some community members’ contributions are controversial. This vandalism can be anything from parody to destructive misinformation. However, this form of participation only strengthens the community as members collaborate to verify, refine, and neutralize the content.
In exploring possible communities for this course, I wanted to select a community that is well researched but also had a desire to explore some of my own personal interests. I looked at a number of information communities such as artists, feminists, political activists, and social movements. I stumbled across the term “Wikipedian” when reading about a group called Art+Feminism. They organize Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons and teach standards for content contribution and editing. Their focus is on increasing the representation of women in the arts on Wikipedia. I was surprised to find this a fairly well-researched topic of interest to librarians and information scientists. The reason for this became apparent when I discovered numerous efforts by libraries and museums to share and verify content on freely accessible platforms such as Wikipedia. Furthermore, there is a significant push from cultural institutions such as galleries, libraries, archives, and museums to diversify and globalize the content found across all of the Wikimedia projects.
Wikipedians as an information community certainly “blurs the boundaries between information seekers, users, and providers, recognizing that a single person or institution can embody multiple segments of the information life cycle” (Fisher & Bishop, 2015). Wikipedians share a sense of responsibility and authority in contributing to this globally shared information system. They connect over a shared interest in contributing to the large online connect system of the world wide web. The internet is a living organism that is fed, grows, and nurtured by a global community of content contributors.
I have a great interest in open source content. I get very excited by projects like the Smithsonian Institute’s digital volunteers, the digital archives of the Library of Congress, and the access to museums through the Google Arts & Culture. I am an advocate for OER (open educational resources). Initially, I thought that I would explore Wikipedians as just one facet of this larger information community centered around these shared content projects. But upon further exploration, I think that the rabbit hole of the Wikimedia Foundation runs very deep, and it may just be a community unto itself.
Cooke, R. (2020). Wikipedia is the last best place on the internet. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/wikipedia-online-encyclopedia-best-place-internet
Fisher, K. E., & Bishop, A. P. (2015). Information communities: defining the focus of information science. In Information Services Today: An Introduction (pp. 20-26). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Wikimedia Foundation. Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://wikimediafoundation.org
Wikipedia:Wikipedians. (2020). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Wikipedians&oldid=977745603