The brilliance of Wikipedia is that anyone, at any time, can contribute to the project, and in doing so, the collective knowledge of the world's largest encyclopedia keeps improving and expanding. In last week's issue of The New Yorker, Lauren Collins brought up an interesting point about Wikipedia worth sharing; one that anyone interested in dealing with virtual communities should absorb.
To put it simply: in the burgeoning world of virtual communities, there is still a good reason to bring people together in real life. In the course of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in June, with a group of its curators and 20+ Wikipedia volunteer contributors, the British Library was able to update over 30 of the online encyclopedia's topics tied to collections housed within its walls. Something tells me this would have been difficult to do with a scattered online group.
I think this example also shows how an organization can harness and direct crowdsourced work in a way that's a win for both sides. Here, the British Library staff was able to get the content that mattered to the organization updated in Wikipedia for free. And the volunteers? Rather than feeling like they were being exploited, they were empowered by their own sense of accomplishment, and powerfully rewarded by the recognition they received from the library curators and their peers. (And I guess getting mentioned in The New Yorker doesn't hurt either.)
*Side note: This wasn't a central theme of the story, but Collins also points out a site called Wikipedia Vision, where visitors get a real-time snapshot of what's being edited at Wikipedia, and by whom. Text bubbles briefly superimpose on the site's world map, showing the location of the editor, and what they're working on. Even people who monitor traffic on websites with analytics tools like ChartBeat, like I do at PLoS Blogs, will appreciate Wikipedia Vision's slick interface and open nature.
Photo via Flickr / nojhan
Brian Mossop is currently the Community Editor at Wired, where he works across the brand, both magazine and website, to build and maintain strong social communities. Brian received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College, and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2006. His postdoctoral work was in neuroscience at UCSF and Genentech.
Brian has written about science for Wired, Scientific American, Slate, Scientific American MIND, and elsewhere. He primarily cover topics on neuroscience, development, behavior change, and health.