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« A story too good to check? | Main | MSFT releases FelxWiki as Open Source project »

September 27, 2004

Ethan Zuckerman on bias in Wikipedia

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Good Ethan Zuckerman post on systemic bias in the Wikipedia, and on a proposal called CROSSBOW (Committee Regarding Overcoming Serious Systemic Bias On Wikipedia), to address the problem:

Amazing though it is, Wikipedia is not flawless. It’s got a problem common to almost all peer production projects: people work on what they want to work on. (This “problem” is probably the secret sauce that makes peer production projects work… which is what makes it such a difficult problem to tackle.) Most of the people who work on Wikipedia are white, male technocrats from the US and Europe. They’re especially knowledgeable about certain subjects - technology, science fiction, libertarianism, life in the US/Europe - and tend to write about these subjects. As a result, the resource tends to be extremely deep on technical topics and shallow in other areas. Nigeria’s brilliant author, Chinua Achebe gets a 1582 byte “stub” of an article, while the GSM mobile phone standard gets 16,500 bytes of main entry, with dozens of related articles.

It is the hallmark of working open source projects that criticism tends to lead to better code rather than just more arguing; the Wikipedia seems to have that same pattern down.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Bernard on September 28, 2004 11:01 AM writes...

Having recently discovered Wikipedia I have been marveling at the quality of the writing as well as the very concept of it being reader written.

In polling, an amazingly small number of people randomly surveyed can deliver an amazingly accurate source of data.

But your point about Wikipedia is well taken. It is inherently going to be 'biased' in a sense, becuse its writers are not randomly chosen.

It will probably tend to be a white, conservative, possibly male, and Western digest. Any bias it shows is probably going to show the collective 'bias' of internet users.

Even there, the conservative voice on the internet tends to be more conservative than the population of America at large. They simply do not have many computers in the ghetto.

I'm going to keep what you said in mind the next time I use Wikipedia to see if I can detect that bias that I have not thus far noticed.


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2. Taran on September 29, 2004 12:49 PM writes...

The Wikipedia is biased; it's representative of the participants. The only way to remove the bias is getting more participants with diverse backgrounds.

The licensing is not keeping anyone from contributing.
Equipment and internet access may be keeping people from contributing.

The same people who have internet access are the same ones contributing. So give more people access! It's really that simple. If, having equipment and access, they choose not to contribute, to participate - is that a bias? Yes, but the creators of the bias have changed.

Ethan's comments have now also created a bias. How easy was that?

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