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Guest blogger: Tale

Where are the Women in Wikipedia?

Despite Wikipedia’s openness, surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of Wikipedia’s contributors are women. It goes on to questioning what accounts for the imbalance. There are eight responding articles:

  1. A Difference of Communication Styles

Susan C. Herring has been researching gender dynamics on the Internet for 20 years, and states that the Wikipedia gender imbalance is a consistent observation in her research. She conducted an online survey for people on an online discussion list for academic linguistics, asking them if they posted messages to the list, and if not, why. The results showed that a) Fewer women than men said they were too busy b) Fewer women than men said they weren’t interested in the topic of discussion.

The response goes on saying that Wikipedia, like the linguistics list, is a site where discourse is not infrequently contentious. They are both knowledge focused, and claims that men are believed to know more “hard facts”, while women are better at getting along with, or helping other people. As Wikipedia enforces a “neutral point of view” policy, it favors a masculine style of communication. The last point claims that – since Wikipedia is public, and since men tend to populate the public domain, they tend to feel a greater sense of need or entitlement to occupy the public space.

  1. ‘Open’ Doesn’t Include Everyone

Joseph M. Reagle and Lauren Rhue compare biographies at the English-language Wikipedia and online Encyclopedia Britannica, and find that Wikipedia provides better coverage and longer articles, and that Wikipedia has more female biographies than Britannica. They also looked specifically at missing biographies, and found that the ratio of missing females to males at Wikipedia was higher. Joseph M. Reagle argues that the reason why there are so few female contributors to Wikipedia is that it is the otherwise commendable values and character of these communities, which may be a factor.

  1. Editing Wars Behind the Scenes

Justine Cassell distinguishes between two different kinds of gender imbalance in Wikipedia: a) the relative length of, and the number of articles that concern “women’s interests” vs. articles that concern “men’s interests”, and b) the number of women who contribute vs. men who contribute overall. She asks why we should care about imbalance in Wikipedia, stating that we care because it raises the possibility of “citizen-generated media” being not actually generated by all citizens. The democracy that Wikipedia aspires to, may in fact ignore 50 percent of the population, concluding that it is indeed something we should worry about.

  1. Trolls and Other Nuisances

This response argues that many discussion sites suffer from “trolls” who actively hinder women’s participation on online communities like Wikipedia. It also argues that Wikipedia is a time-consuming and frustrating site to work with.

  1. The Antisocial Factor

This article argues that the reason why women are more invisible on Wikipedia may be that solitarily editing an article on an online encyclopedia may be seen as antisocial.

  1. More About Power Than Gender

Jessamyn West brings up the question of whether the gender differential matters substantively and if so, how. If it matters, one needs to examine what it means to be an authoritative reference. She goes on saying that, if it matters, we have to be prepared to enforce social norms of equity and diversity. She claims that it is more about power than gender. Bringing crowdsourcing as an example, she claims that some voices are more tacitly and overtly accepted than others.

  1. Hearing a Women’s Voices

This response also questions why these low numbers matter, claiming that it is two-fold: a) it matters to the people who want to participate, but feel unwelcomed, and b) it matters for the larger society that needs women’s full participation. It goes on asking the reader to determine why the cultural norms of the community discourage women’s participation.

  1. Nerd Avoidance

Wikipedia is often associated with technology and innovation. This article gives the argument that being a technology expert or innovator is not seen as a feminine trait. To be branded a “nerd” is not easily compatible with the image of being a woman.

 

Wikipedia and the Neutrality Principle

Wikipedia has shifted from being a collaborative project experimenting with the online production of encyclopedic knowledge, to being a professionally run, volunteer-based, nonprofit organization whose goal is the online production of encyclopedia. The chapter starts out by asking the question of how Wikipedia can hold up its nonprofit status in a network of media groups that are driven by the profit motive.

Wikipedia has been described in the terms of the people that have been involved in its production. The chapter talks about how Wikipedia has been characterized as a platform that is made by users, for users (crowdsourcing), but that it also is based on the importance of neutrality. It then goes on saying that neutrality results in consensus. In the production of consensus, the platform is dependent on technological agents. The significant nonhuman actors (SieBot, Rambot, TxiKiBot, etc.) play an important role in the content management system, both in terms of quantity, but also as qualitative agents.

The next paragraph goes on to talking about content, mentioning three relevant rules: a) The rule of verifiability, b) The rule of “No Original Research” and c) That articles have to be written from a “Neutral Point of View”.

The chapter then shifts from talking about the consensual apparatus, to the socioeconomic structure, mentioning ownership structure, business model, and governance, and trying to tie them together.

Lastly, the chapter asks; how does Wikipedia hold up in a culture of connectivity where the default is on frictionless sharing and data mining? One reason is their dependence on the compatibility with mainstream big players, claiming that Wikipedia’s position in the ecosystem would not have been as crucial if it did not in many ways mesh with other connecting platforms on the Internet.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Many responding articles to the gender imbalance on Wikipedia asked whether, or why this was wrong. Is it natural that we are, based on gender, drawn towards different sites or activities on the Internet?
  2. Wikipedia is based much on crowdsourcing, but is still frequently used and highly trusted. How authentic is it?
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