Day one of WikiWars begins with brief opening addresses from Nishant Shah and Geert Lovink.
The first panel titled Wiki Theory begins with Shun-Ling Chen from the Harvard Law School. Shun-Ling is interested in comparing Wikipedia with the historical ‘republic of science’ and begins by looking at the 19th century OED. She draws broadly from Michel Callon’s notion of translation to investigate different models of knowledge, noting some of the difference between Wikipedia and other commercial models. Continuing with a loosely actor-network-theory approach, Chen looks at the ‘boundary work’ of Wikipedia, of how Wikipedia defines and produces itself in relation to external forces and controversies, and then moves to posit the emergence of new actors in the Wikipedia knowledge network. Of particular interest is her discussion of the ‘vigilant reader’, who steps in for other traditional modes of authority and perhaps trust. Such actors are central to the success of Wikipedia.
The uptake of concepts from ANT took full flight in Stuart Geiger’s presentation, The Wisdom of Bots. Geiger’s presentation is more faithful to the ontological politics of ANT/STS scholarship and its call for a parliament of things. The purpose of Geiger’s presentation, however, was less a plea for such a parliament and more a pure mapping of the techno-mediated condition of knowledge production. The focus, as the title suggested, was the role of Bots in the organisation of Wikipedia. Despite the common perception that Wikipedia fights of nasty contributers (vandals) via hoards of committed users, Geiger points out that the vast majority of vandals are held off by these Bots. Geiger provides a useful taxonomy of different Bots and their respective duties. In the background of this paper is a playful critique of the popular web 2.0 notion, the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and a subtle gesture to the techno-mediated political condition of Wikipedia.
Up next is Beatriz Martins, with an interest in authorship and authority. After a brief historical and theoretical discussion of the author, Beatriz asks what kind of author manifests in digital networks and looks to other historical modes of authorship for continuities. Her conclusions point to notions already popular in web 2.0-style cultural studies – interaction, collaboration, unfinished – without drawing on these theorists directly.
The final presentation is a linguistic/semiotic analysis of select articles in Wikipedia by Dipti Kulkarni. Dipti analyses how the style and structure of knowledge statements work to create the impression of objectivity. Among other things, Dipti notes the lack of deictic words, first or second person pronouns, perceptive or private verbs, as well as the minimal occurance of hedge words (may, might, could etc.). All of these stylistic components work to remove the interpersonal component of language. Most interesting here is that contributors adopt this style automatically, as an effect of the genre.