Red links as stigmergy

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Red links as stigmergy

Bugzilla from nsk@karastathis.org
Diomidis Spinellis (author of the well-known book Code Reading) and
Panagiotis Louridas, both of AUEB, published "the collaborative
organization of knowledge: why Wikipedia's growth is sustainable" with
DOI:10.1145/1378704.1378720 in CACM:51-8 (Aug 2008),
http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1378704.1378720

The two researchers, whose project was partially funded by the European
Commission, found that before an article is created it usually already
has incoming links, in the form of [[red links]].  Most articles get
written within a month after the first red link.  Furthermore, incoming
links increase exponentially until the article is written, thus making
the links blue, at which time the increase becomes linear.  Articles are
usually created by a different Wikipedian than the contributor who
inserted the first red link to it.

I infer that Wikipedians use red links as a way to communicate with one
another about which articles should be written first.  The MediaWiki
software also includes the MostWanted special page in which it counts
how many incoming red links each article has.  Wikipedia also has the
[[Wikipedia:Most wanted articles]] page.

I regard the use of the red links for identifying articles most needed
to be written as an example of communication through stigmergy in
Wikipedia.  I am, however, somewhat concerned about whether most
Wikipedians prefer to get this information from the articles themselves
or from the MostWanted MediaWiki/Wikipedia features, and whether this
could affect the stigmergic nature of the communication.  I feel that
they probably get this information from the articles themselves
spontaneously, and in that case it very much looks like stigmergy; but
if they get the information from the centralised MostWanted page, is it
still stigmergy?  I would think yes, albeit the stigmergic nature of the
communication may appear to be somewhat more weak than in the other
case.  What do other subscribers in the wiki-research-l mailing list
think?


--
Thanks,
NSK Nikolaos S. Karastathis, http://nsk.karastathis.org/



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Re: Red links as stigmergy

Joseph Reagle
On Sunday 12 October 2008, nsk wrote:

> I regard the use of the red links for identifying articles most needed
> to be written as an example of communication through stigmergy in
> Wikipedia.  I am, however, somewhat concerned about whether most
> Wikipedians prefer to get this information from the articles themselves
> or from the MostWanted MediaWiki/Wikipedia features, and whether this
> could affect the stigmergic nature of the communication.  I feel that
> they probably get this information from the articles themselves
> spontaneously, and in that case it very much looks like stigmergy; but
> if they get the information from the centralised MostWanted page, is it
> still stigmergy?  I would think yes, albeit the stigmergic nature of the
> communication may appear to be somewhat more weak than in the other
> case.  What do other subscribers in the wiki-research-l mailing list
> think?

I think this question would require a very clear understanding/definition of stigmergy, and how it is differentiated from communication. On p.53 of my dissertation I noted:

[[
Stigmergy is a term coined by Pierre-Paul Grasse to describe how wasps and termites collectively build complex structures; as Istvan Karsai (2004, p. 101) writes, it “describes the situation in which the product of previous work, rather than direct communication among builders, induces [and directs how] the wasps perform additional labor.” In addition to my proposal that this notion might be helpful in understanding Wikipedia collaboration (Reagle, 2005b), Mark Elliott (2006) has also, more thoroughly, argued the same: “As stigmergy is a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment. . . the concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen” (p. 4).
]]

So then the question becomes what constitutes "direct" communication versus environmental modification in the wiki context.


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Re: Red links as stigmergy

Gregory Maxwell
In reply to this post by Bugzilla from nsk@karastathis.org
On Sun, Oct 12, 2008 at 5:42 AM, nsk <[hidden email]> wrote:
[snip]
> I regard the use of the red links for identifying articles most needed
> to be written as an example of communication through stigmergy in
> Wikipedia.  I am, however, somewhat concerned about whether most
> Wikipedians prefer to get this information from the articles themselves
> or from the MostWanted MediaWiki/Wikipedia features, and whether this
> could affect the stigmergic nature of the communication.  I
[snip]

I would expect, but do not have data to support:

That at any time there is small subset of highly active users who
actively use the "MostWanted" features and are personally responsible
for a highly disproportionate number of new articles. I also expect
that there is a much larger group of editors who learn of needed pages
by discovering red-links during their own quasi-random exploration and
do not use the MostWanted feature at all.  Finally, I expect that
while members of this latter group make far fewer articles
individually the large size of this group results in the contribution
being very large.

To study this further you could explore the page hit counts for the
mostwantedpage features and compare that to article creation.   You
could also explore how "wanted" a page becomes before it is created:
I would expect (but again, do not have data to support) that many
pages are created long before they have enough accumulated want to
earn a visible position on any of the mostwanted pages lists. (i.e.
mostwanted is not going to have much effect on pages until they have a
rather large amount of want).

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Re: Red links as stigmergy

Platonides
Gregory Maxwell wrote:
> I would expect, but do not have data to support:
>
> That at any time there is small subset of highly active users who
> actively use the "MostWanted" features and are personally responsible
> for a highly disproportionate number of new articles. I also expect
> that there is a much larger group of editors who learn of needed pages
> by discovering red-links during their own quasi-random exploration and
> do not use the MostWanted feature at all.

I agree. There's a corpus of established editors creating many 'wanted
articles', plus a large base of viewers which occasionally create an
article from a red link they see. Then, you have usual editors which
create an article from a red link because they found it when viewing
another page, not because they searched on Special:MostWanted.

I do not dare to estimate whom is creating more articles, though.

An interesting point I often see as an admin is how, when a page has
been deleted many times (by being created with gibberish), it always has
some incoming links.

It is a variant of the proposed case, as the users aren't creating good
content, but they're reading and following the red link enough (here
they aren't using wantedpages) to make the vandalising noise noticeable.
And leave the admin wondering how, having only a few incoming links
(sometimes even just one!) so much people went ahead and created it with
nothing to say.

Thus, I expect that good creations by random people finding a red link
follow a similar pattern.


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