WikiSym Redefined

Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki, at the first WikiSym in 2005 which was co-located with ACM OOPSLA in San Diego, California. Pic by Peter Kaminski CC BY on Flickr.
Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki, at the first WikiSym in 2005 which was co-located with ACM OOPSLA in San Diego, California. Pic by Peter Kaminski CC BY on Flickr.

There has been much reflecting and soul-searching about the future of WikiSym in the past year (and probably before that as well). Many felt that the conference was becoming dominated by Wikipedia research and that it needed to grow to encompass more research in the open source, open data and open content realm. I felt that the conference needed to attract more social scientists and qualitative researchers in order to reach more detailed understanding of Wikipedia is being integrated into everyday life.

Despite the negatives, everyone felt that WikiSym was and still is the best place for people who do research about Wikipedia and other wikis to gather and that there was a lot of promise in broadening our mandate. This is why I feel so excited about co-chairing a new dedicated Wikipedia track at next year’s WikiSym in Hong Kong along with Mark Graham, also at the Oxford Internet Institute. And that’s why I was also happy that Dirk Riehle, veteren of WikiSym, is at the helm again next year, leading an effort to redesign the event around a changing research landscape.

There are a few key differences to next year’s event:

1. WikiSym 2013 will be held jointly with a new conference called ‘OpenSym’ and the entire event will consist of four tracks dedicated to different research trajectories:

  • Open collaboration (wikis, social media, etc.) research (WikiSym 2013), chaired by Jude Yew of National University of Singapore
  • Wikipedia research (WikiSym 2013), chaired jointly by myself and Mark Graham of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford
  • Free, libre, and open source software research (OpenSym 2013), chaired jointly by Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona and Gregorio Robles of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos
  • Open access, data, and government research (OpenSym 2013), chaired by Anne Fitzgerald of Queensland University of Technology

This means that Mark and I can focus on getting the very best of Wikipedia research to WikiSym and in thinking hard about what is missing and what needs to be encouraged in the years to come.

2. WikiSym 2013 will once again, after a hiatus of two years, be co-lated with Wikimania, Wikipedia’s annual community conference, which will enable us to benefit from the input of some of the amazing people who congregate for Wikimania and will hopefully strengthen the already-valuable input that we always have from experienced Wikipedians commenting on current research.

3. WikiSym 2013 will hopefully attract more social scientists and more qualitative researchers who can lend some new in-depth perspectives to Wikipedia research. Because Wikipedia is such a wonderful source of big data about the world, we tend to see a lot of big picture perspectives of the encyclopedia.But if we want this to be an interdisciplinary gathering and if we want to complement big data perspectives with more in-depth understandings of social and historical features of Wikipedia, we will need to attract a greater diversity of researchers. For this reason, we’re thinking of ways to enable social scientists to use the conference as a way to discuss their ideas in a way that doesn’t prevent them from publishing in journal publications. We’ve realised that some social scientists don’t attend WikiSym because they have different publishing requirements to the computer scientists regarding publishing in proceedings, (preferring to publish in journals rather than in conference proceedings) and so we have a new paper format called ‘presentation paper’ in which only the abstract of the paper presented at the event will be published as part of the proceedings (even though the entire paper must be submitted for review).

Those are three key changes to WikiSym 2013. We’ve engaged with the Wikipedia research community and our amazing committee to highlight specific types of Wikipedia research that we’re interested in seeing more of. In particular, questions like:

  • What do particular articles or groups or articles tell us about the norms, governance and architecture of Wikipedia and its impact on media, politics and the social sphere? How is information on Wikipedia being shaped by the materiality of Wikipedia infrastructure?
  • What is the impact of all/some of Wikipedia’s 211 language editions having on achieving the project’s goal to represent the “sum of all human knowledge”? Do smaller language editions follow the same development path as larger language editions? Can different representations in different languages tell us anything about cultural, national or regional differences?
  • What are the gendered dimensions of Wikipedia editing? How are issues around power, knowledge and representation drawn into focus by gender, geography and other gaps and imbalances in Wikipedia editing?
  • What skills/competencies/connections/world views are required to become an empowered member of the Wikimedia community? What would a Wikipedia literate person look like? How are those skills/competencies/connections/world views obtained and enacted?
  • Does Wikipedia enact an open source of authoritative knowledge that impacts learning in formal and informal settings? For instance, how do students employ Wikipedia as a covert/overt source in their papers or as a generative site for problem formulation? Or how is Wikipedia being used as a serendipitous experience of knowledge acquisition? What methods can be employed to understand these varied utilizations?
  • What is the effect of outreach initiatives involving the growing institutionalisation of Wikipedia activities? As galleries, libraries, archives and museums hire Wikipedians-in-residence to digitize, showcase and/or represent their collections, is Wikipedia able to fill some its key knowledge gaps? Or are there unintended effects of this institutionalization of knowledge?
  • What are the methodological challenges to studying Wikipedia? How are researchers engaging with innovative methodologies to solve some of these problems? How are other researchers using traditional or well-established methods to study Wikipedia?
  • How are wiki projects other than Wikipedia evolving? What are the benefits to studying other wiki projects and can comparisons and generalisations be made from our observations of these systems?
  • How does information contained in Wikipedia shape our understanding of broader social, economic, and political practices and processes? What theoretical frameworks in social, economic, legal and other relevant theoretical traditions can be applied to enrich the academic discourse on Wikipedia?

Led by the amazing committee of people who will be evaluating papers including:

Megan Finn
Affiliation: Microsoft Research, New England
Home page URL:

Stuart Geiger
Affiliation: UC-Berkeley School of Information
Home page URL:

Brent Hecht
Affiliation: Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota
Home page URL:

Brian Keegan
Affiliation: Northeastern University
Home page

Wen Lin
Affiliation: Newcastle University
Home page URL:

Felipe Ortega
Affiliation: Researcher, Dept. of Statistics and Operations Research, University Rey Juan Carlos.
Home page URL:

Dan Perkel
Affiliation: IDEO
Home page URL:

Joseph Reagle
Affiliation: Northeastern University
Home page URL:

Jodi Schneider
Affiliation: DERI, NUI Galway
Home page URL:

Monica Stephens
Affiliation: Humboldt State University
Home page URL:

Dario Taraborelli
Affiliation: Wikimedia Foundation
Home page URL:

Robert West
Affiliation: Computer Science Department, Stanford University
Home page URL:

Matthew W. Wilson
Affiliation: Department of Geography, University of Kentucky
Home page URL:

Taha Yasseri
Affiliation: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Home page URL:

Matthew Zook
Affiliation: University of Kentucky
Home page URL:

I’m confident that we’ll be building something really great with this wonderful group of some of the world’s most accomplished and/or up-and-coming information/Web and/or Wikipedia researchers. I’m hoping that this will stand us in good stead to see a much more diverse and extensive panel next year highlighting what is missing from Wikipedia research. I’d also personally love to see some of the great ethnographies of Wikipedia in a panel at the conference, and to see more research on Wikipedia in developing countries. I’ll be searching for people to encourage to attend so if you know of anyone, please let me know! More soon 🙂

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