Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

6 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.426
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.724

CiteScore 2017: 0.63

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.326
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.625

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 35, Issue 5


Sociotechnical interaction at work: an ethnographic study of the Wikipedia community

Shing-Chung Jonathan Yam
Published Online: 2015-10-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2015-0016


With much of Wikipedia’s research centering on the encyclopedia’s articles, less is known about the way its editors confront issues through computer-mediated talk pages. I present a novel attempt to investigate the diversity of discursive, sociotechnical interactions in the community with a data-driven online ethnography. I detail three issues: (i) how human editors collaborate with bots; (ii) what kinds of sociotechnical interaction are used in the discussion of article development; and (iii) how these interactions sustain the project. Notable differences emerge as to how human editors interact with other humans and bots during both article construction and personal interactions. With eight dimensions of interaction in cooperative knowledge generation identified, I proceed with a discussion of Wikipedia’s sociotechnical authorship, hierarchical order, and protocological operations.

Keywords: cooperative knowledge generation; bot; free information; sociology of communication; sociology of knowledge; crowdsourcing


  • Beer, D. 2009. Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious. New Media & Society 11(6). 985–1002.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Beer, D. & R. Burrows. 2007. Sociology and, of and in Web 2.0: Some initial considerations. Sociological Research Online 12(5). http://dx.doi.org/10.5153/sro.1560 (accessed 22 September 2015).

  • Berg, M. 2011. Vernacular sociology and netnographic explorations. The 10th Conference of the European Sociological Association: Social Relations in Turbulent Times. Geneva, Switzerland: European Sociological Association.

  • Blommaert, J. 2007. On scope and depth in linguistic ethnography. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11(5). 682–688.Google Scholar

  • Bruner, E. M. 1997. Ethnography as narrative. In L. P. Hinchman & S. K. Hinchman (eds.), Memory, identity, community: The idea of narrative in the human sciences, 264–280. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar

  • Cabunducan, G., R. Castillo & J. B. Lee. 2011. Voting behavior analysis in the election of Wikipedia admins. In 2011 International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining, 545–547. doi:10.1109/ASONAM.2011.42.Crossref

  • Catterall, M. & P. Maclaran. 2002. Researching consumers in virtual worlds: A cyberspace odyssey. Journal of Consumer Behaviour 1(3). 228–237.Google Scholar

  • Chandy, R. 2008. Wikiganda: Identifying propaganda through text analysis. Caltech Undergraduate Research Journal Winter 2008/09. http://www.rishichandy.com/files/wikiganda_CURJ2.pdf (accessed 24 March 2013).

  • Colyvas, J. A. & S. Jonsson. 2011. Ubiquity and legitimacy: Disentangling diffusion and institutionalization. Sociological Theory 29(1). 27–53.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Dobler, R. 2009. Ghosts in the machine: Mourning the Myspace dead. In T. J. Blank (ed.), Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular expression in a digital world, 175–193. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.Google Scholar

  • Galloway, A. 2004. Protocol: How control exists after decentralization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Goldman, E. 2009. Wikipedia’s labor squeeze and its consequences. Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law 8. 157–183.Google Scholar

  • Herring, S. C. 1992. Gender and participation in computer-mediated linguistic discourse. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, ED345552.

  • Herring, S. C. 1996. Gender and democracy in computer-mediated communication. In R. Kling (ed.), Computerization and controversy, 2nd edn, 476–489. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar

  • Holloway, S. & G. Valentine. 2003. Cyberkids: Children in the information age. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Hu, M., E.-P. Lim, A. Sun, H. W. Lauw & B.-Q. Vuong. 2007. Measuring article quality in Wikipedia: Models and evaluation. In Proceedings of the Sixteenth ACM Conference on Information and Knowledge Management, 243–252. Lisbon, Portugal: ACM Press.Google Scholar

  • Jemielniak, D. 2012. Trust, control, and formalization in open-collaboration communities: A qualitative study of Wikipedia. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Boston. 6 August.

  • Johnson, B. K. 2007. Wikipedia as collective action: Personal incentives and enabling structures. East Lansing, Michigan: Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, Michigan State University.Google Scholar

  • Joyce, E., B. Butler & J. Pike. 2011. Handling flammable materials: Wikipedia biographies of living persons as contentious objects. In Proceedings of the 2011 iConference, 25–32. Seattle, WA: ACM New York.Google Scholar

  • Kittur, A., E. Chi, B. A. Pendleton, B. Suh & T. Mytkowicz. 2007. Power of the few vs. wisdom of the crowd: Wikipedia and the rise of the bourgeoisie. 25th annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 28 April–3 May.

  • Kostakis, V. 2010. Peer governance and Wikipedia: Identifying and understanding the problems of Wikipedia’s governance. First Monday 15(3).Google Scholar

  • Kozinets, R. V. 2010. Netnography: Doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Kozinets, R. V. & J. Handelman. 1998. Ensouling consumption: A netnographic exploration of the meaning of boycotting behaviour. Advances in Consumer Research 25. 475–480.Google Scholar

  • Lam, S. T. K. & J. Riedl. 2009. Is Wikipedia growing a longer tail? In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 International Conference on Supporting Group Work, 105–114. Sanibel Island, FL: ACM, New York.Google Scholar

  • Langer, R. & S. C. Beckman. 2005. Sensitive research topics: Netnography revisited. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal 8(2). 189–203.Google Scholar

  • Laudon, K. C. & J. P. Laudon. 2000. Management information systems: Organization and technology in the networked enterprise. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar

  • Loubser, M. & M. den Besten. 2008. Wikipedia admins and templates: The organizational capabilities of a peer production effort. European Academy of Management Conference in Ljubljana and Bled. 14–17 May.

  • Niederer, S. & J. van Dijck. 2010. Wisdom of the crowd or technicity of content? Wikipedia as a sociotechnical system. New Media and Society 12(8). 1368–1387.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • O’Neil, M. 2010. Shirky and Sanger, or the costs of crowdsourcing. Journal of Science Communication 9(1). http://jcom.sissa.it/sites/default/files/documents/Jcom0901%282010%29C04.pdf (accessed 22 September 2015).Google Scholar

  • O’Reilly, T. 2005. What is Web 2.0? Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.Google Scholar

  • O’Sullivan, D. 2009. Wikipedia: A new community of practice? Farnham, England & Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar

  • Roessing, T. 2008. Opinion formation in Wikipedia: Theory, measurement, and findings. Masaryk University Journal of Law and Technology 2. 163–176.Google Scholar

  • Rosenzweig, R. 2006. Can history be open source? Wikipedia and the future of the past. Journal of American History 93(1). 117–146.Google Scholar

  • Rzeszotarski, J. & A. Kittur. 2012. Learning from history: Predicting reverted work at the word level in Wikipedia. In Proceedings of the ACM 2012 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 437–440. Seattle, WA: ACM New York.Google Scholar

  • Santana, A. & D. J. Wood. 2009. Transparency and social responsibility issues for Wikipedia. Ethics and Information Technology 11(2). 133–144.Google Scholar

  • Sherry, S. 2007. Democracy and the death of knowledge. University of Cincinnati Law Review 75. 1053. Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 06–21. http://ssrn.com/abstract=947530 (accessed 27 Jul 2015)

  • Strauss, A. L. & J. Corbin. 1998. Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques, 2nd edn. Newbury, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Stvilia, B., M. B. Twidale, L. C. Smith & L. Gasser. 2005. Assessing information quality of a community-based encyclopedia. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Quality, 442–454. Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management.Google Scholar

  • Sundin, O. 2011. Janitors of knowledge: Constructing knowledge in the everyday life of Wikipedia editors. Journal of Documentation 67(5). 840–862.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Tabb, K. 2008. Authority and authorship in a 21st-century encyclopaedia and a “very mysterious foundation”. eSharp 12. http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_102864_en.pdf (accessed 22 September 2015).Google Scholar

  • Viegas, F. B., M. Wattenberg, J. Kriss & F. van Ham. 2007. Talk before you type: Coordination in Wikipedia. In Proceedings of the 40th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4076527 (accessed 10 April 2014).

  • West, A. G. & I. Lee. 2012. Open wikis and the protection of institutional welfare. Educause. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB1201.pdf (accessed 21 January 2012).

  • Westerman, W. 2009. Epistemology, the sociology of knowledge, and the Wikipedia userbox controversy. In T. J. Blank (ed.), Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular expression in a digital world, 123–159. Logan, UT: USU press publications.Google Scholar

  • Yam, S.-C. J. 2012. A sociology of knowledge approach to cooperative knowledge generation: Ideology and structural tension of Nupedia. West East Journal of Social Sciences 1(1). 48–54. http://www.westeastinstitute.com/journals/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/5-Shing-Chung-Jonathan-Yam-A-Sociology-Of-Knowledge-Approach-To-Cooperative-Knowledge-Generation-Ideology-And-Structural-Tension-Of-Nupedia.pdf (accessed 27 July 2015).Google Scholar

  • Yam, S.-C. J. 2013a. Decommercialization and anti-elitism: Early years of Wikipedia 2001–2002. International Journal of Arts & Sciences 6(1). 533–538. http://universitypublications.net/ijas/0601/pdf/SPQ603.pdf (accessed 27 July 2015).Google Scholar

  • Yam, S.-C. J. 2013b. Incremental knowledge: Legitimation of cooperative knowledge generation. ATINER’s Conference Paper Series SOC2013-0408. http://www.atiner.gr/papers/SOC2013-0408.pdf (accessed 27 July 2015).

  • Yam, S.-C. J. Forthcoming. Wisdom of the crowd, controversies and coordinating policies. Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences.

About the article

Shing-Chung Jonathan Yam

Shing-Chung Jonathan Yam is a PhD candidate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include information sociology, sociology of the Internet, and the philosophy of social science. His recent publications include “Incremental knowledge: Legitimization of cooperative knowledge generation” (ATINER’s Conference Paper Series SOC2013-0408) and “Invitation to information sociology” (Global media Journal – American Edition).

Published Online: 2015-10-08

Published in Print: 2015-09-01

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 35, Issue 5, Pages 669–694, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2015-0016.

Export Citation

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.


Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in