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June 18, 2005

The FUD-based Encyclopedia

Krowne, Aaron. “The FUD-based Encyclopedia.” Free Software Magazine. March 2005. 16 June 2005.

Krowne responds rather vehemently to McHenry’s “The Faith-Based Encyclopedia,” calling the piece “contradictory, incoherent ... selective, dishonest, and misleading” (1). He also considers Wikipedia within the context of Commons-Based Peer Production.

FUD stands for ‘Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt,’ and Krowne claims that these terms describe oppositional rhetoric directed at open-source and open-access communities. McHenry’s piece is, then, propaganda in this war (1). As a librarian, Krowne endorses Wikipedia and finds it to be a good, solid source (2). He attacks McHenry’s notions about the unreliability of Wikipedia entries, most particularly through the size of McHenry’s sample set: 1 entry out of (at that time) 1 million (3). He also points to McHenry’s complaints about lower-order concerns (spelling, grammar, text flow), which ignore the sheer breadth of Wikipedia’s coverage. Finally, he sweeps aside McHenry’s use of the public restroom metaphor, pointing out that Wikipedia’s revision history is transparent and readily available — quite the opposite of Britannica.

More importantly, Krowne situates Wikipedia within theories of Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP). Working from Benkler’s “Coase’s Penguin,” he proposes the “first two laws of CBPP”:

  1. When positive contributions exceed negative contributions by a sufficient factor in a CBPP project, the project will be successful (5).
  2. Cohesion quality is the quality of the presentation of the concepts in a collaborative component (such as an encyclopedia entry). Assuming the success criterion of Law 1 is met, cohesion quality of a component will overall rise. However, it may temporarily decline. The declines are by small amounts and the rises are by large amounts (5-6).
He also adds a companion corollary:
  1. Laws 1 and 2 explain why cohesion quality of the entire collection (or project) increases over time: the uncoordinated temporary declines in cohesion quality cancel out with small rises in other components, and the less frequent jumps in cohesion quality accumulate to nudge the bulk average upwards. This is without even taking into account coverage quality, which counts any conceptual addition as positive, regardless of the elegance of its integration (6).

Krowne also explores multiple styles of CBPP. The first distinction is based on the idea of an authority model. “The authority model of a CBPP system governs who has permissions to access and modify which artifacts, when, and in what workflow sequence” (7). He outlines two distinct authority models:

  • The Free-Form Model: allows anyone to edit any entry at any time. (Ex: Wikipedia) It assumes that all users are on the same level, and that expertise will be universally recognized and deferred to. This model may initially produce high coverage with lower cohesion.
  • The Owner-Centric Model: assumes an owner of each entry. Other users may suggest changes, but only the owner can apply the changes, and only he can grant other users ‘edit’ access to the entry (7). This model assumes that the owner is the subject-matter expert, and that all other users will defer to that expertise. This model will initially produce highly cohesive product with lower coverage.

Posted by kenne329 at June 18, 2005 11:04 AM | Authority | Peer Production | Webzines | Wikipedia