By Eva & Yuna 

Chapter 5. Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production from Here Comes Everybody.


According to Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody, the idea of Wikipedia departed from creating online encyclopedia based on collaboration. At first, its founders launched a website, Nupedia, with its basic idea of online encyclopedia, but the website barely grew. After about a year, they founded a software, wiki, which enables any people to create, edit, add, alter and delete the contents of an webpage, and applied it to their website. Finally, Wikipedia was launched and it became the most famous distributed collaboration website on the Internet.

How Wikipedia works?

: Different from usual division of labor that is associated with highly managed settings, it works based on spontaneous division of labor.

Steps toward creating an article

  • Step 1. Creating asphalt – basically, someone creates a subject for an article on Wikipedia
  • Step 2. Some reader of the article became contributors- some of the contributors add new text, some edit the existing article, some add references to other articles or external sources, and some fix typos and grammatical errors.
  • Step 3. Article gets better over time as it is never finished – Since no filtering system exists on the website, numerous number of people constantly add, edit, and delete contents of an article.
  • The key to its success is freedom for its labors: “the process is more like creating a coral reef, the sum of millions of individual actions, than creating a car. And the key to creating those individual actions is to hand as much freedom as possible to the average user.” (122)

A predictable Imbalance

: Wikipedia or any other collaborated website is open place that everyone can contribute any contents, but it does not mean that a number of people equally participate.

Imbalance of participation has been seen on social media, as power law is applied.

(Power law (a.k.a. 80/20 rule): the imbalance becomes more extreme the higher the ranking.)

  • Example 1)  “118 photographers contributed over three thousand Mermaid Parade photos to Flickr, but the top tenth contributed half of those…. “(123)
  • Example 2) “ On mailing lists with more than a couple dozen participants, the most active writers is generally much more active than the person in the number-two slot, and far more active than average.”(124)


Not only in the participation system, but do power law distributions work in the systems of interacting elements. But, it does not mean that imbalance drives damaging, but it actually drives large social systems.


Motivations to involve in Wikipedia

  • A chance to exercise some unused mental capacities by participation
  • Vanity: it lets users make a far more meaning far contribution, which stimulate people to leave their marks on the world as one of common human desires.
  • The desire to do a good thing, as it is nonprofit encyclopedia service website

How does it survive from both disagreement and vandalism?

: “The wiki format is another version of publish-then-filter; coercion is applied after the fact rather than before.”(135-136)

To block Vandalism:

  • the review process quickly happens as obvious vandalism is seen on the website.
  • Novel technology with novel social strategy within its community is working against vandalism.
  • Ability to lock a page: preventing people except few committed wikipedians from editing an article till the time passions have cooled. 

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, by Yochai Benkler

The Benkler reading is a very in-depth look at peer production, from what it is, to how it has developed, to various iterations that have existed over the years and today. For the purposes of this week’s summary, I have included important terms and definitions from Benkler’s more theoretical introduction of peer production, and highlighted a few examples from the text. Also – check out this YouTube video of Benkler presenting on this very topic. Yochai Benkler: Open-Source Economics

-       The emergence of free and open-source software, and the phenomenal success of its flagship, the GNU/Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, Perl, and many others do not rely on markets or on managerial hierarchies to organize production. Programmers participate in free software projects without following the signals generated by market-based, firm-based, or hybrid models.

-        The networked environment makes possible a new modality of organizing production: radically decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosly connected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either market signals or managerial commands. Benkler calls this “commons-based peer production.”

-       “Commons” refer to a particular institutional form of structuring the rights to access, use, and control resources. It is the opposite of “property” in that with commons, no single person has exclusive control over the use and disposition of any particular resource in the commons.

-       There are 4 types of commons, based on whether they are open to everyone or to a defined group, and whether it is regulated or unregulated.

-       Open commons might be the oceans, the air, and highway systems. Limited commons may be various traditional pasture arrangements in Swiss villages, or irrigation regions in Spain.

-       Unregulated open commons are governed by no rule – anyone can use resources within these types of commons at will and without payment. For example, air. Regulated commons may be ruled by formal or social-conventional rules, such as sidewalks, streets, roads and highways.

-       The term “peer production” characterizes a subset of commons-based production practices. It refers to production systems that depend on individual action that is self-selected and decentralized, rather than hierarchically assigned.

-       Decentralization describes conditions under which the actions of many agents cohere and are effective despite the fact that they do not rely on reducing the number of people whose will counts to direct effective action.

-       The quintessential instance of commons-based peer production has been free software. Free software, or open source, is an approach to software development that is based on shared effort on a nonproprietary model. It depends on many individuals contributing to a common project, with a variety of motivations, and sharing their respective contributions without any single person to entity asserting rights to exclude either from the contributed components or from the resulting whole. Participants usually retain copyrights in their contribution, but license them to anyone – on a model that combines a universal license to use the materials that make it difficult/impossible for any single contributor or third party to appropriate the project. Ex: GNU General Public License

-       Free software has played a critical role in the recognition of peer production, because software can be tested against its market-based competitors – and in many instances, free software has prevailed. About 70 percent of Web server software runs on the Apache Web server – free software.

-       Free software began in 1984 with Richard Stallman, when he started working on GNU. He knew he could not write a whole operating system by himself, so he released pieces of his code under a license that allowed anyone to copy, distribute, and modify the software in whatever way they pleased, as long as the person who modified the software would distribute it to others under the same conditions. This type of license became known as the GNU General Public License, or GPL. It came to be known as the “copyleft,” a legal artifice that allowed anyone to contribute to GNU without worrying that someday they might be arbitrarily locked out of the system they had helped to build.

-       Linus Torvalds began working on the “kernel” of the operating system. His model was based on voluntary contributions and ubiquitous, recursive sharing.

-       Benkler breaks down the communication process in peer production into 3 stages: the initial utterance of a humanly meaningful statement, a separate mapping of the initial utterances on a knowledge map, and the function of distribution. Ex: NBC News produces the utterances, gives them credibility by clearing them on the evening news, and distributes them simultaneously.

Some interesting examples of peer-production that Benkler highlights:

-       Wikipedia, founded by Jimmy Wales, combines 3 core characteristics: 1) it uses a collaborative authorship too, Wiki, 2) it is a self-conscious effort at creating an encyclopedia, 3) all content generated by this collaboration is released under the GNU Free Documentation License. In 2001, Wikipedia had 10 contributors and 25 articles. As of 2005, it had 48,721 contributors and 1,600,000 articles!

-       Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) are another example of very unique distributed content production. The role of the game provider is not to tell a finished, highly polished story, but to provide tools with which users collaborate to tell a story. In the game Second Life, more than 99 percent of the objects in the game environment are user-generated.

-       Amazon and Google are two commercial businesses that rely on peer production to provide accreditation and relevance to their product. Amazon uses recommendation features such as “customers who bought items you recently viewed also bought these items,” as well as creating lists and tracking other friends and favorites. Google utilized PageRank, which harnesses peer production of ranking. The engine treats links from other Web sites pointing to a given Web site as votes of confidence. Whenever someone who authors a Web site links to someone else’s page, that person has stated quite explicitly that the linked page is worth a visit. Google’s search engine counts these links as distributed votes of confidence in the quality of the page pointed to. Pages that are heavily linked-to count as more important votes of confidence.

A visualization of PageRank


Slashdot is the most elaborate platform for peer production of relevance and accreditation. It is a leading technology newsletter on the Web, coproduced by hundreds of thousands of users. Slashdot implements an automated system to select moderators fro the pool of users. The moderator rates comments, and positive ratings increase comments by one point, while negative ratings decrease comments by one point. Slashdot then provides users with a “threshold” filter that allows each user to block lower-quality comments. The same dynamic that we saw used for peer production of initial utterances, or content, can be implemented to produce relevance and accreditation.

Questions to think about…

1. Have you ever participated in a peer production project? If yes, please share! If not, is there any particular reason why? Now that we have learned about so many peer-production products on the Web, would you be interested in participating in any of them?

2. Can you think of some examples for “Commons” that are more related to the Web or media spaces? For example, what is an example of an unregulated, open media space?

14 Responses to “Weekly Readings: Wikipedia and Commons-Based Peer Production”

  1. peternenov says:

    I have not participated in any peer production project. I had thought about editing a Wikipedia entry at one point but decided against it because I was unfamiliar with how to do so. Despite reading up on peer production projects, I still don’t feel anymore interested in actually participating in one. I definitely enjoy the benefits they produce for users but it seems that contribution is time-consuming. While users that contribute heavily are producing value for others, to me, the actual process of producing is no different than devoting time to playing a game or being on Facebook. It is a hobby and task that is done for its own fulfillment; a fulfillment which partially is derived from the social benefits of the activity.

  2. lizcullen says:

    I guess in some sense the internet itself is an unregulated open common since everyone is allowed access and there are not universal governed rules to some extent. While most people pay for an internet provider, there are still lots of ways to use the internet without pay such as using someone else’s internet, using free wi-fi hotspots, or using school/work place internet. I think the interesting thing about ‘commons’ is that they can all be contested to some degree in the media sphere since they are always being redefined, reorganized legally, and monetarily up for grabs (such as the continuing debate about certain sites being paid for and a no longer free world wide web).

  3. jenny1rving says:

    I’ve never contributed to a peer-production product or wiki, but I have always been tempted/intrigued by Wikipedia’s evil twin: Uncyclopedia (…
    It’s essentially the same concept (user produced encyclopedia entries), but it is entirely based on humor and satire. This definitely takes the pressure off. With Wikipedia, I’m always afraid of ruining a perfectly informative article with my two cents…but on Uncyclopedia, my two cents can come out my ass and still make for an incredible article, and hopefully put a smile on someone’s face. Expertise and citations are not an obstacle, which makes the time spent constructing a decent entry fun rather than daunting.

  4. aroyce says:

    When I studied abroad last semester, I was a ‘freelance editorial intern’ for a blogging website about things for students to do and where to stay and it was called Rollinglobe Media. We were in a sense, all building databases of the places we went, but it wasn’t volunteer based, neither open source (to my knowledge). I would kind of have dilemmas over how personal to get with my tone and if I should be open to express my opinions, and what if they appeared radical in any sense of the word. I feel like the structure of the community lent itself to that tone because under the confines of necessity. Although we weren’t assigned assigned stories and got to blog and review wherever we wanted, I think it still boiled down to the level of participation and the motivating factors to post, and blog really affected how this community of bloggers was being created.

  5. xuan says:

    I generally do not particpate in peer productions and tend to be more on the receiving end. I do value them, but just do not feel personal motivation to contribute. I think that user generated reviews for websites like Amazon and Ebay have played enormouse roles in the success of my experiences. If anything, my contributions will start here because it’s where I know my personal input will have a positive impact with reasonable time being spent.

  6. Queenie says:

    1. I haven’t participated in a peer production project like Wikipedia because I’m not really interested in inputting that sort of information– Never considered it. Like Peter said, it is time-consuming. I doubt anyone would contribute unless he/she is truly passionate about a particular subject and cares to put information in such site.

    2. I think Quora would be a good example for “Commons”. It is relatively new and popular among techies. You can read more about Quota here:
    An example of an unregulated, open media space could be shortwave radio; people use those to communicate with others or transmit whatever they want… it’s a hobby for a lot of people.

  7. chelseachristensen says:

    When I was a freshman in college we participated in a group wiki about the book “The Assassination of Jesse James.” At the time I was very unfamiliar with wikis and what exactly they were and how they worked, so looking back at the project, I realize that it was probably not a true “wiki” just in the fact that the community was more a forced community, contrary to what Shirky says about how a wiki survives and thrives. In relating what Shirky talks about in this chapter, on its own, the “Jesse James” wiki would probably not have been created in the first place, or in the off-chance it was, would not have survived. For one, having a class project wiki goes against the imbalance of participation function of a wiki such as wikipedia. The professor expected everyone in the class to participate equally. Secondly, there was little to no motivation to create such a wiki. Even with the ability to edit and expand posts, the community was not interested in improving it because the motivation behind the project was a grade, rather than a general interest or “love” as Shirky discusses. So looking back, I haven’t really participated in an peer production project in the deep sense of the definition, but the project did introduce me to wikis, even if I at the end still didn’t completely understand the sense of what it was.

  8. cassidyraehavens says:

    I’ve never participated in a wiki, but I’ve been tempted to with websites like UrbanDictionary and Wikipedia, just because it’s really annoying when I search for something and it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (a true sign that I’ve become to reliant on it).

    I guess an example for a “Commons” would be online journaling sites like LiveJournal or InsaneJournal. You have to sign up, but anyone can do that then post whatever they’d like.

  9. wasante says:

    1. I participated once in a wiki. In all honesty, it was far too confusing for me to understand and I don’t think they accepted my edit immediately. I couldn’t tell who was in charge of what.

    2. Would count? Also, Cassidy’s first travelogue concerning RPG’s seemes to have a certain dynamic of community based assistance. Actually there are a lot of fighing game webstites that are community driven.,,,, qualifies in a sense too. Any wiki would be included in that regard as well.

    I was wondering, what prevents these systems, especially Wikipedia, from being under the mercy of Trolls. They’re everywhere. And they seem to have little regard for truth or accuracy. The mere fact that cold hard research could overcome the power of trolling. I recall an episode of Tosh.0 when he unlocked his Wikipedia page and all sorts of slander and trolling ran rampant on the page.

    Why is there a different dynamic between wikis than with a site like 4Chan?

  10. wasante says:

    Oh also

  11. bettycwang says:

    I once edited a friend’s father’s wikipedia page as a joke. I think that the idea that these commons are completely free spaces is faulty to a certain degree because there is still a system of checks and balances that filters the participation of any one individual. As the anarchist in my wikipedia situation, I was bummed to find that merely two hours after my intervening of the wiki page, my satirical input had been wiped away from the website. While there were no official monitors, the increasingly popular a subject is in the general population, the easier it is for many individuals to detect an outlier.

  12. Matt Gorman says:

    Every time I read something about Wikipedia I feel compelled to give something back to the resource I have used so many times, but like Peter, I never seem to go through with it because of some strange fear of it being too complicated or exclusive. Even though it is obviously not exclusive, and even though I’ve heard countless times that it’s actually pretty easy to use, I never seem to get around to it.

    Another potential block that keeps me from Wikipedia is that even though it could be possible that I’m more qualified to write about some things than the people who do so, I tend to have a feeling that someone else probably knows better than I do. I think if Wikipedia had a campaign encouraging people to try to do just one thing on the site, many people would drop these fears and there would be an increase of authorship and editing on the site.

  13. I love participating in peer-productions. It is funny because I never really understood them as being such. I have written reviews for Amazon books and have also edited a few Wiki pages, I did so because I was passionate about what I was contributing to. I wanted to have an effect on other peoples experiences and I wanted to be a part of them. I actually wrote a review for Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix Culture as I wanted other people to read it an enjoy it as I did. A good example of an unregulated open space would have to be 4chan because literally anything is put up there and people form communities and gain info whether it be useful or not through surfing the boards on that website.

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