Wikipedia: Wisdom Of Crowds Or Chaperones?

Posted by Nipun Mehta on May 19, 2009
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Wikipedia stats are pretty amazing -- 684 million unique visitors in the last year, 75,000 active contributors, 10 million articles in all languages (2.7M in English), 100 million volunteer hours donated.  And it operates on a staff of 20 with an annual budget of $5.9 million!

However, slate reports: "Social-media sites like Wikipedia are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots -- supervised by a special caste of devoted users -- that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones."  College OTR adds, "Most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits."

Almost all social media sites show this kind of a Pareto's Power Law  distribution.  Top 100 Diggers, for example, submitted 44% (and 56% in 2006) of the site's top stories.  Length of this "long tail" can be measured by the exponent of Pareto's Power Law, with a lower value implying a longer tail.  As Fat Knowledge shows, Wikipedia's 1.16 exponent is pretty long but is similar to the exponent value of book sale distribution and net worth of Americans.

That's empowering in one sense -- you get 1400 die-hard fans, some technology skills and server power, and you've got the capacity to create a Wikipedia.  In another sense, though, it shows that a pure many-to-many play is inversely proportional to scale; that is, as you scale up (even on the Internet), your capacity to build trust is weaker than that of the detractors to play foul.  In turn, that forces social media platforms to rely on their power users.

Perhaps our "multiple storefronts and one warehouse" -- many small websites that share data on the backend -- approach will be a more skilful one.

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Comments (3)

  • Matt wrote ...

    <i>That's empowering in one sense -- you get 1400 die-hard fans, some technology skills and server power, and you've got the capacity to create a Wikipedia.</i> Is that what it means, or does it mean that in order to get 1400 die hard fans you need to attract 100,000 or which 1.4% will turn out to be hard core?  Or maybe it means the opposite in that each 1 hard core fan you attract will help to atract another 100 casual fans.  Another interesting question is what would happen if some of the hard core fans leave.  Will others step up and replace what they did?  Or will they leave a hole and possibly the number of causual fans will go down. <i>In another sense, though, it shows that a pure many-to-many play is inversely proportional to scale; that [...] See full comment.

    <i>That's empowering in one sense -- you get 1400 die-hard fans, some technology skills and server power, and you've got the capacity to create a Wikipedia.</i>

    Is that what it means, or does it mean that in order to get 1400 die hard fans you need to attract 100,000 or which 1.4% will turn out to be hard core?  Or maybe it means the opposite in that each 1 hard core fan you attract will help to atract another 100 casual fans.  Another interesting question is what would happen if some of the hard core fans leave.  Will others step up and replace what they did?  Or will they leave a hole and possibly the number of causual fans will go down.

    <i>In another sense, though, it shows that a pure many-to-many play is inversely proportional to scale; that is, as you scale up (even on the Internet), your capacity to build trust is weaker than that of the detractors to play foul.  In turn, that forces social media platforms to rely on their power users.</i>

    I am not sure I understand what you mean here.  I think you are saying that small groups have more equal contributions by all members and that as you grow it gets more uneven and that is a bad thing.  If that is what you are saying I don't agree with it. 

    Imagine you were volunteering for 100 charities and you could split up your time how you wanted between them.  Is it better to spend 1% of your time on each, or 50% on one and really focus in on it and .5% on the rest keeping weak links that could spread ideas and people far and wide?  I would go with the second, and if everyone did the same you would end up with a distribution like Wikipedia and Digg (ie, people spend the majority of their time on just one site, but spend a little time on a bunch of other sites).  I think this is a good thing, not something to be lamented.

    <i>Perhaps our "multiple storefronts and one warehouse" -- many small websites that share data on the backend -- approach will be a more skilful one.</i>

    That made me chuckle.  I think maybe you meant "multiple storefronts and just one developer". :)

    It would be interesting to look at CF data and see what kind of long tails emerge.  What % of volunteer time and contribution does the top CF volunteer account for?  What about those that showed up on the retreat?  If CF has 256,000 members, how much does the top .1% or 256 members contribute?

    On Help Others stories, what kind of distribution is there in terms of contribution of stories and comments?  What % of total stories/comments are contributed by the top 5% of users?  Of CF Sites, what % of total hits does the top 5% of sites get?  Of Daily Good, what does the distribution of conrributors of stories look like?  On Pledgepage, what % of total guestbook entries are on the top 5% of sites?

    I don't know how long these long tails will be, but I am not sure that seeing that you have a few really hard core volunteers contributing a lot of time is a bad thing.  Would be interesting to see what you find though.

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  • Sam wrote ...

    Great post Nipun and thoughtful comments Matt!  The many storefronts one warehouse concept made me think of a kind of gift economy Wal-Mart. "One of the biggest innovations that Wal-Mart has introduced was in having a flexible regional warehouse system. Most Wal-Mart stores are within a six hour drive of a Wal-Mart warehouse. Wrote Camerius (2004), 'Wal-Mart built the distribution center first and then spotted stores around it, pooling advertising and distribution overhead'" Which then, thanks to the wonders of Google brought me here: http://ow.ly/974c  Where they look at the role of Shiva's endless dance of systemic creation and paradigm-busting destruction and the importance of inhaling as well as exhaling over time.  Whether CFs users have the same tails as Wi [...] See full comment.

    Great post Nipun and thoughtful comments Matt!  The many storefronts one warehouse concept made me think of a kind of gift economy Wal-Mart.

    "One of the biggest innovations that Wal-Mart has introduced was in having a flexible regional warehouse system. Most Wal-Mart stores are within a six hour drive of a Wal-Mart warehouse. Wrote Camerius (2004), 'Wal-Mart built the distribution center first and then spotted stores around it, pooling advertising and distribution overhead'"

    Which then, thanks to the wonders of Google brought me here: http://ow.ly/974c  Where they look at the role of Shiva's endless dance of systemic creation and paradigm-busting destruction and the importance of inhaling as well as exhaling over time.  Whether CFs users have the same tails as Wikipedia users or are evolving into a different species altogether, seems less relevant than the capacity to dance between order and chaos along our path.  CFs organizational commitment to volunteerism and generosity creates a feeling of good will and common cause accross the board that economically heirarchical organizations generally lack. There's an understanding that life lived this way is less predictable and demands greater compassion for the "inefficiencies" of organic growth.

    So it seems that CFs inspiring structural innovation of more efficient database and "warehouse" management for nonprofits and the gift-economy would face similar challenges as Wal-Mart (stultifying sameness, efficiency values over human ones), without the nimble, compassionate, trust-based, chaotic yet clear-of-purpose philosophy to guide it. Like a coral reef, how can CF's efficient substrate encourage the greatest diversity of expression of the gift economy?  If we're all spirits in service, perhaps there is no tail.  Everyone does their thing at whatever pace they are comfortable with.  It becomes our challenge to help, without attachment to outcome.

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  • låne penger wrote ...

    Låne Penger is a very useful website for me :D