Wikipedia is currently developing into something that goes beyond its initial intention of being a free encyclopedia. In addition to its open informative role, it is also developing into a debate forum, a moderated and edited Hyde Park where the various contributors sometimes "slide" into "edit wars".
Disputes range over a broad spectrum of topics, of varying notoriety. Some have been at the focus of universal disputes for centuries, such as Jesus Christ, Jews, etc. Others, such as cloning, have become objects of dispute only in recent years. Still others have been disputed only among a handful of people, the dispute remaining unnoticed by the rest of the world, such as the dispute over Cornwall's claim to independence. This last category is of particular interest, since it exposes issues that haven't been recently illuminated by the media. In this sense, Wikipedia serves an additional purpose of exploring issues that haven't been deemed interesting by media powers.
Wikipedia currently maintains a special page of all NPOV disputes. This page lists all topics that are currently tagged as NPOV . New subjects are constantly added, and existing ones are removed as the NPOV tag is removed from the page. This page actually acts as some kind of recommendation list, a recommendation of topics that are important and interesting enough for the contributors to discuss them, sometimes a little too fervently. This list can be viewed as the list “hot Wikipedia pages”, as defined by Wikipedia users.
The dispute pages provide some interesting information by themselves. Whether the page in dispute is the article itself, or its accompanying discussion page, In both cases the discussion pages provide an interesting insight into the different sides of the dispute, and can reveal to some extent the depth of the divide between the different sides of that dispute. Further information can be gleaned from the “history” pages related to the disputed articles and their discussion pages. Parameters such as the start (and sometimes end) of a dispute, its volume, the size of the contributing audience, the heat of the dispute (based on editing frequency), the nature of the contributions, etc., can all be tracked in order to gain some insight on the impact of the issue.
My project already consists of: 1. A script that tracks the weekly changes in the NPOV list, and keeps track of which subjects have been removed from the list, and which have been recently added. 2. A script that tracks individual pages on the dispute list, and estimates the “heat” of the dispute.
Further features I would like to be able to add (with Wikipedia’s cooperation): A dispute timeline: Tracking all the issues that have been marked as NPOV since the foundation of Wikipedia, along with the dates in which they were tagged and de-tagged as NPOV. A dispute "recommendation list" to be featured in the NPOV disputes page, a daily updated list informing the reader which pages have been recently added to or removed from the disputed topics’ list, along with a list of "10 most disputed articles of the week".
I believe the perspective and tools suggested here may serve to promote the diversity of information sources on the Web, and on Wikipedia in particular. Moreover, it may attract readers and contributors to Wikipedia, and especially to the disputed topics, where they could gain a broader insight into their topics of interest, while at the same time amplify the NPOV list. This may also induce readers to contribute their own point of view to disputed articles, and increase the general level of audience participation in Wikipedia.
This project has been initiated during an Information Politics course given by Dr. Richard Rogers at the Media Design MA program of the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam from December 04 to April 05.
Paper: The Dynamics of NPOV disputes
Introduction: NPOV - “Everybody Has a Point of View” (Wikipedia: NPOV Tutorial)
Wikipedia’s open content platform is designed to enable every reader to become an editor, or, following Ted Nelson’s dream, it is getting close to letting the browser be the editor. It is natural for people to argue, and Wikipedia provides an excellent structure for that. This approach has proved quite succesful at attracting high levels of participation by devoted Wikipedians, and provides a high-quality platform where a variety of opinions can be articulated. Hence a very interesting phenomenon: the edit wars followed by the dispute pages, the NPOV tag.
When an NPOV tag is added to a page, it means that the person who adds it believes that the article in question does not conform to the neutral point of view standards set by Wikipedia (1). Thus, the article pages sometimes serve as battlegrounds, as contributors try to impose their own point of view as the objective truth regarding that certain subject. This is only natural for contemporary controversial issues such as abortion. It is interesting to follow the different views behind the arguments presented in those pages, and the different terms used in the discourse related to the matter at hand. Such discussions can reveal recent developments in the debate over that issue, and disclose authentic points of interest that might have otherwise been overlooked by the mainstream media. They provide an insight into the "real persons'" views on the controversies "du jour'.
Wikipedia’s NPOV List Brings Forgotten Issues Back to Life
Interesting as such an insight may be, Wikipedia's discussion pages offer another important benefit. Being an Encyclopedia rather than a news provider, Wikipedia represents a public media space for discussions that haven't necessarily been on the news recently. Controversial issues that would have otherwise been long forgotten gain a renewed interest through contributors who feel strongly about them.
An interesting example for such a long-forgotten and little-known controversial issue was the discussion page associated with the article on Cornwall. Believe it or not, this peaceful county in the southwest Britain has its own independence movement! This article has generated a prolonged dispute in the discussion page, over this Cornish claim for nationhood. The history of the discussion page reveals that the discussion, begun about 4 years ago, is still going on, with more than 30 contributors, and around 400 edits (individual contributions). This subject has been recently removed from the list of current disputes, and now figures on a list of resolved disputes (on the “Wikipedia: Requests for comment/Article content disputes archive” page).
NPOV List as a Recommendation List and Reputation System (2)
Wikipedia runs an implicit reputation system through its Wiki format. Every page on Wikipedia has an associated history page, where all contributions (whether additions, deletions or corrections) are logged along with a time stamp, allowing users to compare present and past page versions. This enables to trackindividual contributions, and become familiar with the contributive style of every participant. This logging and tracking system builds up a reputation for every contributor, to which other participants may react. Moreover, a contributor with a history of vandalizing pages may be blocked by Wikipedia editors, based on his/her reputation record.
“Dispute Monitor”: Some Issues are “Hotter” than Others.
Disputes differ from each not only in content. Every dispute has its own unique pattern , such as debate volume (number of edits), starting point and date, frequency of edits over different periods, degree of vandalism, and, of course, participants. These differences can be tracked and quantified systematically using the tools provided by Wikipedia. Every page in Wikipedia also has a History page which serves as a “log file”, where data concerning every bit of editing are conserved and publicly displayed. Tracking and processing this data can lead to interesting results, which one can serve as a basis for conclusions about the nature and interest group of that disputed subject. Data which can ‘t always be obtained by merely looking at the edited contents on the page
What can be learned:
Starting with the NPOV dispute list, every disputed article can be queried for the following parameters: The starting date of the dispute The user who started it The overall number of edits made on that page (before and after it got tagged as NPOV). The frequency of the edits, and how it changes over different periods The contributors to that page, and their contributions to other articles For non registered users: track their IP in order to differentiate between single or several users.
The starting point for the script is the list of articles on the NPOV list. Every issue is registered, and compared with last week’s list, in order to see which subjects were deleted, and which were added. Then for every subject all the data mentioned above are currently obtained through scripts that perform automated “ screen scraping”. The retrieved HTML code is then parsed in order to get the relevant details. Obtained data is further used in order to obtain more information, such as tracking other articles to which a specific user contributes, and thus gain understanding regarding that user, and the nature of disputes that user is likely to get involved in.
Examples: see presentation http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Image:Wikimania_th1_NPOV_presentation.pdf
(2) Rheingold, Howard : "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution". Perseus Books, 2003
(3) Rogers, Richard “Information Politics on the web”,MIT Press, 2004