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Paper Week: Conflict in Wikipedia

Today starts a week of research papers! Sounds boring, doesn’t it? I know it probably does, especially for people outside the field of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). That is why I’ll try to make this as fun and easy to read as possible. As part of this effort, I’ll end each post this week with an original comic strip. So let’s just get right to it.

Paper: He Says, She Says: Conflict and Coordination in Wikipedia (reference at the bottom of this post)

What in the world did they do?

You’ve most probably heard of Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. You can probably guess that people don’t always agree as to what should go in each article. Well, these researchers studied how conflict and coordination occur in this environment.

What’s so cool about that?

Wikipedia by itself is awesome. But as for this research, it’s cool that these guys tried to understand when and how often people argue on Wikipedia.

Did anything worthwhile come out of it?

These researchers found out that as time passes, there are less people editing articles and more people discussing what should be in the articles.

They also came up with a simple, but cool algorithm to detect articles which had conflict going on. They used stuff like number of revisions and number of editors to figure this out.

The last thing they did was group together editors of an article. The resulting groups usually had people on the same side of the issue.

Why should I care?

When you’re searching for information on any topic on Wikipedia, you expect the information to be sufficiently accurate. And with so many different opinions floating around, how can you expect to find information that is not too subjective or wrong? Well, if we can understand how conflict and coordination occur in Wikipedia, we can pay more attention to articles in which people are having trouble deciding what should be included in the article and look for ways to work it out. In other words, dealing with conflict in Wikipedia means better articles for you.

Now, as promised, here is today’s comic strip. Enjoy! (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Reference: Kittur, A. et al. He says, she says: Conflict and coordination in Wikipedia. In Proc. CHI. 2007


When you said you were going to present one paper every day I actually thought you would post a link to the paper for us to read. What a relief to see it's just a nice, simplified summary! And a comic strip every day! yay!

Did the paper make any statement as to whether or not conflict led to more or less accurate articles?

The closest they get to such a statement is in the following sentences from their introduction:
"Conflict in online communities is a complex phenomenon. Though often viewed in a negative context, it can also lead to positive benefits, such as resolving disagreements, establishing consensus, clarifying issues, and strengthening common values."
I think their focus in the paper is not to show that conflict itself is good or bad, but that it is necessary for communities such as Wikipedia to moderate conflict in ways that lead to positive benefits.