Jimmy Wales on Wikipedia Community

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, gave a talk at Stanford last week. The bits that struck me from the talk were about the human model of community that makes wikipedia work.
Jimmy described two models of online communities. In one model, people are ants. Information emerges from the unwitting contribution of the masses. Individuals are not powerful. In this model, reputation is a number. In the second model, people are a community, a few hundred active volunteers who know each other and interact based on kindness and trust. In this model, reputation is human.
Despite the high traffic – 5B page views per month at last count, Wikipedia is a tight community. 50% of edits are added by 615 people, and 73% of edits by 1746 people.
Wikipedia is a network of encyclopedias in different languages. The “tipping point” when an encyclopedia has enough critical mass to succeed is a community of 5-10 people, producing about 1000 articles. An encyclopedia gets reallyl useful at 500,000 to 100,0000 pages.
Jimmy gave two stories that showed the value of open access and community-defined process.
Say you’re going to open a restaurant, and you’re going to serve steak. There are steak knives that can be used to kill people. What do you do? You lock people in cages (he shows a very sad gorilla in a small cage on a concrete floor) By increasing barriers the barriers to doing bad things, you prevent people from doing good things.
Wikipedia has a very simple and flexible model for voting about whether a page is to be kept or deleted. It is just a wiki page, where participants note whether they believe the page should be deleted. Then an admin makes the decision. More weight is given to evidence that a topic is valid — if there are 8 people who think it’s hoax, and two people who prove with citations that the topic is valid, the page is kept. Programmers regularly ask whether they should write a voting widget, and Jimmy says no.
The wikipedia model is less common than the traditional software model, where access is restricted as much as possible, and permissions are restricted as much as possible. As wikis become more popular, some people gravitate toward the familiar pattern to manage content by keeping people out. It’s inspiring to look to wikipedia’s overwhelming success for lessons of the benefit of access, flexibility, and human community.

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