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WikiDashboard: transparency, privacy and other consequences of measurement

Similar to Stowe Boyd and Jack Vinson I’m not a big fan of wikis: while they are good for collective writing when authorship of specific contributions is not important, there are much more cases where it’s essential to know who makes what changes. Of course, the history of edits is there, but it’s just too unhuman to be used systematically.

However, given that the traces are there getting tools to analyse them is just a matter of time. WikiDashboard (thanks to Jane McConnell) is a good example of what is possible: if you use it to browse Wikipedia, each page is enhanced with a visualisation representing top ten users who edited it.

Motivation: The idea is that if we provide social transparency and enable attribution of work to individual workers in Wikipedia, then this will eventually result in increased credibility and trust in the page content, and therefore higher levels of trust in Wikipedia.

I was curious to see how it works, so I used it to check who edits Knowledge_Management page:

Wikidashboard: Knowledge management

And then click on User:Snowded:

Wikidashboard: user:snowded

The second screenshot is more interesting: it’s a user page that shows what pages he edits most. As I was suspecting, the user is Dave Snowden and you can see not only which pages he edits, but also that he seems to have given up editing KM page (or that visualisations are not up to date, since this is not the case).

Well, on one hand I’m happy to see tools that add transparency and give credits to individual contributors. On the other hand, I wonder what Dave thinks of it. It’s not only about privacy concerns, but also about the potential of tools like this for messing up contributor motivations and all other consequences of measurement.

The people behind Wikidashboard are interested in the patterns that it might show, also inside companies:

We’re curious of how the Web community will use this tool to surface social dynamics and editing patterns that might otherwise be difficult to find and analyze in Wikipedia. We are also interested in applying this tool to Enterprise Wikis.

I’m interested in those patterns too, but even more in the secondary effects of having tool like that in a corporate settings. I still remember the feedback we’ve got on our innocent prototype that visualised some patterns in a corporate discussion forum. Then I was surprised not that much with the “Big Brother” title for our application, but with a little detail: community members didn’t want to have visible the number of messages they wrote next to their names, the feature that you can see often in public forums. Funny enough, they didn’t mind having a list of messages they wrote displayed next to their names. Numbers are easy to judge and easy to turn into targets, while it’s pretty clear that contribution it not about that.

See also:

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2007/12/16.html#a1965; comments are here.

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