Wikipedia not so novel after all, except to UK university lecturers; EPOV instead of NPOV
Wikipedia in historic context: “Stigmergic accumulation” is not new
“Wikipedia and Encyclopedic Production” by Jeff Loveland (a historian of encyclopedias) and Joseph Reagle situates Wikipedia within the context of encyclopedic production historically, arguing that the features that many claim to be unique about Wikipedia actually have roots in encyclopedias of the past. Loveland and Reagle criticize characterizations of Wikipedia that they believe to be ahistorical and exaggerated, laying special blame with authors who compare Wikipedia’s anonymous production to Encyclopedia Britannica’s production by named experts, and thus ignore the rich tradition of encyclopedic production through the centuries. The authors then set about characterizing the history of encyclopedic production as composed of three overlapping forms: compulsive collection, stigmergic accumulation, and corporate production.
‘Compulsive collection’ refers to the work of compiling encyclopedias that has traditionally been done by a few dedicated, tireless, detail-oriented individuals. Loveland and Reagle point out that, although Wikipedians share this compulsive behavior with past encyclopedists, the crucial distinction lies in the fact that the vast majority were motivated by money (even if this motive existed alongside more idealistic motivations) whereas Wikipedia editors are unpaid.
Loveland and Reagle use the term ‘stigmergic accumulation’ to refer to the process of production by accretion onto a previous text. Even those responsible for a singly authored encyclopedia were relying on predecessors, the authors argue, ‘building on their work and using the cumulative character of texts and knowledge as a ladder of sorts’. Examples of existing texts included the use of a previous edition of an encyclopedia that ran into multiple editions, and the practice of borrowing between different encyclopedias that was sometimes illegal but more often viewed as ‘piratical’ i.e. morally wrong.
The category of ‘corporate production’ is used by Loveland and Reagle to describe the process of encyclopedic editing by a group – groups that topped a thousand contributors in the 20th century. Editors of early encyclopedias like Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in the 1700s faced the challenge of trying to coordinate the contributions of about 140 contributors in a similar way to Wikipedia having to confront issues of consistency that result in debates about how important a subject must be to merit an article. In contrast to other encyclopedias, write Loveland and Reagle, Wikipedia settles these debates through community decision-making and in the open. The authors also note that previous encyclopedias didn’t always recruit on the basis of expertise and that some recognized that it would be cheaper and sometimes more accurate to have non-experts summarizing the works of experts.