The next meeting is on Thursday 24 January 2019:

Wikipedia and other knowledge-sharing systems

Making and sharing knowledge in communities: can wikis and related tools help?

Accumulating, organising and sharing knowledge is never easy; this is the problem Knowledge Management seeks to address. Today we hope networked electronic platforms can facilitate the process. They are never enough in themselves, because the issues are essentially human, to do with attitudes, social dynamics and work culture — but good tools certainly help.

In past seminars, NetIKX has looked at MS Sharepoint, but that is proprietary and commercial, and it doesn’t work for wider communities of practice and interest. In this seminar, we will be looking at a range of alternatives, some of them free of charge and/or open source, together with the social dynamics that make them succeed or fail.

First we will look at the wiki model. Our case study will be Wikipedia — famous, but poorly understood. Fortunately we will have an excellent guide in Andy Mabbett, a hugely experienced Wikipedia editor, who inspires respect and affection around the world for his ability to explain how Wikipedia works, and for training novices contributing content – including as a ‘Wikipedian In Residence’ encouraging scientific and cultural organisations to contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia.

A few stats: Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can in theory edit, has now survived 18 years, existing on donations and volunteering. It has accumulated over 40 million articles in 301 languages, and about 500 million visitors a month. The English edition has nearly 5.8 million articles. There are about 300,000 active contributors, of whom 4,000 make over a hundred edits annually.

Under the wider banner of ‘Wikimedia’, there are sister projects such as Wiktionary, Wikiversity, which hosts free learning materials, Wikidata, which is developing a large knowledge base, and the Wikimedia Commons, which holds copyright-free photos, audio and other multimedia resources.

And yet, as the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia admits, “Wikipedia has been criticized for exhibiting systemic bias, for presenting a mixture of ‘truths, half truths, and some falsehoods’, and for being subject to manipulation and spin in controversial topics.” This isn’t so surprising, because humans are involved. It’s a community that has had to struggle with issues of authority and quality control, partiality and sundry other pathologies. We look to Andy for insight into these problems, and how the Wikipedia community organises itself to define, defend and implement its values. For our part, we will glean these narratives to learn from them.

ALTERNATIVE PLATFORMS: No NetIKX seminar would be complete without syndicate sessions, conducted in parallel table groups. For the second half of the afternoon, each group will be presented in turn with tales from three case studies of knowledge sharing using different platforms and operating under different rules. These endeavours might have used email lists, Google Docs, another kind of wiki software, or some other kind of groupware. We have not yet finalised arrangements for this exercise: there will be tales of triumph, but of tribulation too.

At the end of the afternoon, we pool our thoughts. We’re looking to identify key factors which might point the way towards building better ways of sharing knowledge. These could be about [a] network and software features and ‘affordances’ [b] human values and behaviours and [c] governance and management issues,

To register, follow the link above.

A pdf (Machines and Morality – 26 July 2018.) giving details of the meeting can be downloaded.


The theme of the 2019 programme is Opening Up: what can we do to make sharing easier without making life more difficult?.

The provisional topics for the rest of the year are:

  • March: Open Data
  • May: Critical Thinking and Information Literacy
  • July: Content Strategy
  • September: Open Knowledge
  • November: Open/Evidence-based Policymaking

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