andrew_lih's picture
Associate Professor of Journalism, American University; Author, The Wikipedia Revolution

What has changed my way of thinking is the ability of the Internet to support the deliberative aggregation of information, through filtering and refinement of independent voices, to create unprecedented works of knowledge.

Wikipedia is the greatest creation of massive collaboration so far. That we have a continuously updated, working draft of history that captures the state of human knowledge down to the granularity of each second is unique in the human experience.

Wikipedia, and now Twitter, as generic technical platforms have allowed participants to modify and optimize the virtual workspace to evolve new norms through cultural negotiation. With only basic general directives, participants implicitly evolve new community conventions through online stigmergic collaboration.

With the simple goal of writing an encyclopedia, Wikipedians developed guidelines regarding style, deliberation and conflict resolution while crafting community software measures to implement them. In the Twitter universe, retweeting and hashtags were organically crafted by users extended the "microblogging" concept to fit emerging community desires. This virtual blacksmithing in both the Wikipedia and Twitter workspaces support a form of evolvable media that is 'impossibly' supported by the Internet.

So far, our deep experiences with this form of collaboration have been in the domain of textual data. We see this also in journalistic endeavors that seek truth in public documents and records. News organizations such asTalking Points Memo and The Guardian (UK) have successfully mobilized the crowd to successfully tackle hundreds of thousands of pages of typically intractable data dumps. Mature text tools for searching, differential comparison and relational databases have made all this possible.

We have only started to consider the implications in the visual and multimedia domain. Today, we lack the sufficient tools to do so, but we will see more collaborative creation, editing and filtering of visual content and temporal media. Inevitably, the same creative stigmergic effect in the audio-visual domain from Internet-enabled collaboration will result in works of knowledge beyond our current imagination.

It is hard to predict exactly what they will be. But if you had asked me in 2000 whether something like Wikipedia was possible, I would have said absolutely not