Comments: Knowledge, power and mobilising a lobby through Wikipedia

I agree 100% with your reservations, though I have added two or three snippets to the History of Virtual Learning Environments section myself, as well as encouraging others with knowledge of the development of learning environments in the 1990s to do the same.

Whilst contributing my snippets I had a look at some of the internal links from the page to other Wikipedia entries. I was struck by a long bloated biography that even included the subject's client list. But in this case it was obviously either the work of a publicist, or a bit of self-promotion.

The trouble with the History of Virtual Learning Environments page is that there is no way for the casual visitor to detect that the content has been put there largely by people who share a particular set of concerns.

The temporary expedient would, as you say, be for "someone" (Michael Feldstein - who put the original stub page up?) to put a disclaimer at the top of the page. But that would not stop this particular use of Wikipedia from being an abuse of its purpose, albeit one which is both interesting in its own right, and "for the common good". So the contents of the page should be moved somewhere else. Again, by "someone"!

Posted by Seb Schmoller at August 4, 2006 8:21 AM

It's a tricky one, for sure. I think the entry could be defended against existing Wikipedia guidelines such as those on vanity pages. It sticks mostly to facts, but they are 'facts with attitude'.

After the first flush of enthusiasm with any new collective venture comes the boring responsibility of defining processes and procedures to manage actively what has evolved with minimal management. Again Stacy Schiff's article has spotted this:

Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas, two researchers at I.B.M. who have studied the site using computerized visual models called "history flows," found that the talk pages and "meta pages"—those dealing with coordination and administration—have experienced the greatest growth. Whereas articles once made up about eighty-five per cent of the site's content, as of last October they represented seventy per cent. As Wattenberg put it, "People are talking about governance, not working on content." Wales is ambivalent about the rules and procedures but believes that they are necessary. "Things work well when a group of people know each other, and things break down when it's a bunch of random people interacting," he told me.

Which reminds me of Mitch Kapor's old quote, "Behind every working anarchy there's an old boy network".

Posted by David Jennings at August 4, 2006 11:34 AM

As the guy who first created the stub, I thought about this issue too. (And I thought about it some more when Seb called my attention to your post.) The thing is, if people refrained from writing about subjects about which they are passionate (and therefore have particular points of view), Wikipedia probably never would have gotten off the ground.

There are two keys to making this work the way it should, in my view. First, attract as many eyeballs as possible. The different points of view will help balance the article out. Heck, there's nothing to stop a Blackboard employee from adding info about Blackboard's milestones. In fact, I hope that they will.

The second thing is not to be afraid to edit other people's bullet points in the interest of fairness. If you see language that is loaded, then by all means, edit it. For example of this in action, check out Jon Udell's screencast, "Heavy Metal Umaut: The Movie" ( It shows (among other things) how contentious language can be successfully negotiated in Wikipedia.

Posted by Michael Feldstein at August 4, 2006 5:24 PM

Michael, thank you for taking the time to reply.

I think we agree on almost everything: that the page you initiated has value; that more people should be encouraged to view, edit and add to it; and that that process will further improve the quality and value of the page.

My concerns, such as they are, are about issues of degree, related to the 'facts with attitude' point. The page, as far as I can see, doesn't infringe any of Wikipedia's guidelines (on vanity, spam or disputes). In an ideal world, for the period of time before lots of eyeballs have sifted the content, I'd like to see some gentle indicator on the page to show 'recently created page', 'initiated to prove a point' and 'could possibly be disputed'.

Perhaps that's unrealistic. Perhaps the point is that we all, as Wikipedia readers, have to keep in mind the wariness of caveat lector. But many of us have not got used to reference works on which the paint has yet to dry.

Posted by David Jennings at August 4, 2006 6:20 PM

OK, upon further search, I was finally able to find a method in Wikipedia to request peer review from the editors and notate the request at the top of the page. I have done so.

Posted by Michael Feldstein at August 4, 2006 8:34 PM

Well, I'm definitely happier now. Partly because of peer review request instigated by Michael at the top of entry on the History of Virtual Learning Environments, and partly because I've got a better appreciation of the knowledge creation and dissemination issues that the Wikipedia "form" involves.

Posted by Seb Schmoller at August 4, 2006 9:26 PM

I am very pleased that the peer review banner is up now. Having written quite a lot of "recent history" reports on e-learning over the last couple of years, and advised by a historian cousin from time to time, I feel that the wikipedia exercise is well worth doing, and continuing even if the particular issue dies away. (Cue relevant quote from LOTR here.) Should have been started earlier, really - and we all need to take more care with updating our web sites, not rely on some mega-rollback approach.

But there are some issues of methodology to sort out - citations, as far as possible from public web and with evidence of their authenticity (no pre-aging tricks), bad news as well as good, etc. Let's see how the peer review deals with these.


Posted by Paul Bacsich at August 4, 2006 10:52 PM

For the record (via Michael Feldstein's post), here are the Peer review page and talk page that Michael has initiated.

The Wikipedia process, facilitated by Seb making connections between people, definitely seems to have worked here. Thanks to those involved.

Posted by David Jennings at August 6, 2006 6:13 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?