The elements of an encyclopedia project

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
(English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

Suppose we wanted to categorize encyclopedia projects, e.g., Nupedia, Wikipedia, Encarta, Britannica, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and so forth. For this, we could produce an exhaustive set of encyclopedia project characteristics. Differences among the projects' characteristics would distinguish the projects. For example, Nupedia is carefully-controlled; Wikipedia isn't. Nupedia and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy pay only a few people; Britannica, presumably, pays everyone involved. Nupedia is not proprietary; Encarta is. Etc.

The elements of an encyclopedia project can be characterized in terms of functions (e.g., article-writing), goals, and a few other items. One can then present a number of choices about how each function is performed. A number of such choices are listed below; this isn't an exhaustive list.

1. The writing function

  • Who writes in what configurations: strictly individuals; individuals and coauthors; strictly teams
  • Who can revise an article (after it's posted): author; author and selected other people (e.g., editor); anyone (moderated); anyone (unmoderated)
  • How writers are found: volunteers; invitations; combination of volunteers and invitations
  • Who assigns authors: subject editors; head editor; self-assignment
  • Minimum qualifications of writers
  • Is writing paid work?

2. The review function

  • Who has the right to make changes to the text: author; author and editor; author, editor, and designated reviewer(s); anyone (moderated); everyone (unmoderated)
  • Who has the right to comment on the text: editor; reviewer and editor; designated reviewers and editor; everyone (moderated); anyone (unmoderated)
  • Qualifications of reviewers
  • How reviewers are found: volunteers; invitations; combination of volunteers and invitations
  • Who choose reviewers: head editor; subject editors; other reviewers
  • Is reviewing paid work?

3. The copyediting function

  • Who copyedits: designated copyeditor(s); anyone (moderated); anyone (unmoderated)
  • Qualifications of copyeditors
  • Who chooses copyeditors: head editor; subject editors; chief copyeditor; author; self-assigned
  • Is copyediting paid work?

4. The acceptance function

  • Who gives final acceptance of an article: the head editor; subject editors; a vote (among various different people--different possibilities here); acceptance is automatic once a process is complete, there is no special acceptance procedure
  • When acceptance (i.e., publishing) is done: after writing; after reviewing; after copyediting
  • Is acceptance paid work?

5. The posting (technical) function

  • Paper or electronic

(Etc. We needn't concern ourselves with this now?)

6. General characteristics of official policies

  • Level of detail
  • Level of enforcement
  • The degree to which traditional/mainstream values are expected in *editing standards* (e.g., copyediting standards that "push the envelope")
  • The degree to which traditional/mainstream values are expected in the *content-creation process* (e.g., Wikipedia is extremely nontraditional; Stanford is extremely traditional; Nupedia is in between)

7. Goals of the project

  • Quality of articles
  • Quantity of articles
  • Rate of article production
  • Timeliness of articles (how out-of-date we're willing to let an article get)
  • Subject matter (general vs. specialized)
  • Special aspects of authors (e.g., an international base of authors)
  • Special aspects of readers (ditto)
  • Popularity (online, measured by traffic)
  • Lack of bias/bias acceptable/bias (of a particular sort) desired
  • Make a profit or employment for the encyclopedists; contribute (without compensation) to freely-available knowledge

The items in #7 ought to determine our choices in #1-6 (if we're being rational).


What does "coordinating all of the aspects of the the encyclopedia" mean? --LMS

A: A mostly systematic review of article content, format, topic hiearchy, link structure, etc. Most of these should be self-healing processes and could be placed within other categories such as copyediting. 'Self healing' because wiki is almost a genetic organism with new mutations created/altered/destroyed on an ongoing basis.

Wiki - the 'Self healing genetic algorithmic public encyclopedia'

I see. Well, indeed, "self-healing" ought to be entirely included in the other processes. The processes aren't necessarily discrete; they might work all at the same time, depending on the system. --LMS