July 9, 2005
Collaborative Authoring on the Web: A Genre Analysis of Online Encyclopedias
Emigh, William and Susan Herring. “Collaborative Authoring on the Web: A Genre Analysis of Online Encyclopedias.” Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. http://csdl2.computer.org/comp/proceedings/hicss/2005/2268/04/22680099a.pdf. 8 July 2005.
In order to compare genre conventions of Wikipedia and Everything2, the authors analyzed 15 comparable texts using corpus linguistic methods and factor analysis of word counts for features of formality and informality. These two text sets were compared to related texts from the Wikipedia discussion forum and the Columbia Encyclopedia. The research sought to answer the following questions:
- How similar or different are entries produced in the two types of systems? (2) Wikipedia entries employ formal language and avoid colloquilalisms. They are stylistically homogenous, focus on core issues of a topic, and are presented in a standard format with section headings and a tale of contents. In contrast, Everything2 writers make a point of using colloquialisms and humorous language. Individual styles are evident, and formatting is inconsistent (7).
- Which system gives rise to better quality entries? (2) The actual study does not investigate quality of content (9), but the authors suggest that the answer depends on user goals and preferences.
- What social processes underlie the production of “good” entries, and how do they shape the conventions of the online encyclopedia genre? (2) Open-editing policies and page-specific discussions (which feature informal language) seem to influence the Wikipedia entries (7). Only node owners can edit Everything2 content.
- Do sites such as Wikipedia and Everything2, which differ in their authoring and editorial mechanism, produce communicative content that can be characterized as belonging to a single genre? (2) Wikipedia entries are nearly indistinguishable from Columbia Encyclopedia entries in terms of language features. Everything2, with its policy of informality, is much different. Both are similar functionally and structurally: “they aim to be repositories of general knowledge, they are available online, their contents are searchable, their entries make use of hyperlinks, they are created by multiple non-expert authors who form a community around the practice of creating content for the site, and they are consulted (to varying degrees) by Internet users seeking information on a wide range of topics” (9). However, they differ in terms of editorial policies and content style. The authors propose that both online encyclopedias are “members of the ‘online knowledge repository’ genre, but that they represent different genres (or sub-types) of online collaborative authoring environments” (9).
Interestingly, Emigh and Herring suggest that Wikipedia’s consistent tone and format is not a positive feature. Instead, they claim that these elements destroy the diversity of the project and stall the development of alternative communication practices.