The ideal Wikipedian. Rules of writing and novice commitment in a knowledge common (2000–2018)

Users and creators of content
By Léo Joubert


Social scientists have reached a consensus that common goods can only exist within the framework of consensual rules among participants. This article aims to understand how the participants of Wikipedia, a “knowledge common,” have made it possible to apply rules by monitoring the contributions of others. We hypothesize that a supervisor is legitimate if he or she preserves both the possibility of new members becoming committed and also maintaining the wiki’s regulations in a state that is considered consensual. The article highlights three periods, divided using indicators on the evolution of the French-language Wikipedia. The period from 2000 to 2004 corresponds to the beginnings, when the first contributors wrote the constitutive rules. Between 2004 and 2008, a huge flow of novices forced supervisors to adapt by clarifying rules and developing bots to manage the workload. From 2008 until today, new real-time monitoring devices have been introduced. Under pressure from experienced supervisors, the rules are transformed into instructions for use. Because helping to become a good contributor equates to prescribing legitimate behavior, enhanced regulation becomes compatible with supervision. During these three periods, the “dialectic of commitment and regulation” makes it possible to understand the legitimacy of surveillance within a knowledge common.
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