Wikipedia and encyclopedic production


Wikipedia is often presented within a foreshortened or idealized history of encyclopedia-making. Here we challenge this viewpoint by contextualizing Wikipedia and its modes of production on a broad temporal scale. Drawing on examples from Roman antiquity onward, but focusing on the years since 1700, we identify three forms of encyclopedic production: compulsive collection, stigmergic accumulation, and corporate production. While each could be characterized as a discrete period, we point out the existence of significant overlaps in time as well as with the production of Wikipedia today. Our analysis explores the relation of editors, their collaborators, and their modes of composition with respect to changing notions of authorship and originality. Ultimately, we hope our contribution will help scholars avoid ahistorical claims about Wikipedia, identify historical cases germane to the social scientist’s concerns, and show that contemporary questions about Wikipedia have a lifespan exceeding the past decade.

Authors: Jeff Loveland, Joseph Reagle
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