Why Wikipedia Works

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 10 years 27 weeks ago.

Via Emergic:

Alex Bosworth posts a meaty conjecture about Why Wikipedia Works:

The core mechanic for Wikipedia is both the thrill of editing a grand project collaboratively, and the more basic reward of having the power to be the expert in a subject that is near and dear. Wikipedia self-selects for people who are obsessive about various subjects or just editing in general, as in every case the person or set of people willing to hammer their edits obsessively will win power over the page, and thus the reward of participation. For controversial subjects where two groups are equally obsessive, this will work itself out in a compromise where only the most obviously provable details remain, such as seen in the common Controversy sections: "Among many, there exists a school of thought that Hitler was really just misunderstood". This compromise is otherwise known in the sometimes cryptic Wikipedia shorthand as of WP:NPOV, or Neutral Point of View.

In terms of the high level goal of Wikipedia being the sum of human knowledge, edit wars may be sub-optimal as some useful information provided by domain experts is overwritten. In optimizing for the most prolific editors, Wikipedia does not select for the most expert editor to win, or offer a reward for the most expert edit, instead the most widely acceptable edits among the mostly non-experts will win. This mechanic does however succeed in creating an environment where thousands of people are willing to make thousands of edits, creating a very wide and useful resource for many types of information, such as facts, basic details of concepts and controversial topics phrased in neutral tones.