[Air-l] Studying Wikipedia, studying humans?

Andrea Forte aforte at cc.gatech.edu
Fri Feb 17 08:44:44 PST 2006

As your subject line implies, I don't think there's one right answer. It
depends on the questions, the methods, the unit of analysis.

I think there are certain cases where this distinction is fairly clear.
When we studied Wikipedia as a community by interviewing Wikipedians about
their practices, that was human subjects research. If I were to study the
interconnectedness of Wikipedia articles by counting links, I'd say
that's NOT human subjects research.

I certainly agree that (like in other online communities research) there
are fuzzy grey areas. I think that each project needs to be understood on
its own merits, though. There's no way to make a statement that covers all
Wikipedia research.


On Wed, 15 Feb 2006, Jeremy Hunsinger wrote:

> I was reading over some wikipedia policies and related things this
> morning and once again the perennial question arose... at what point
> is studying wikipedia... studying humans?  granted that wikipedia is
> much larger than the human content, with both its technical
> infrastructures and bots.  However, this wouldn't be a question for
> studying the Britannica as a 'book', though it might be a an issue in
> studying the production of the encyclopedia in situ via ethnography
> or other workplace studies methods.   So where would you mark the
> difference in wikipedia?   When are you studying an object, vs a
> human subject in wikipedia, or... is the distinction not clear enough
> to differentiate because of the interaction collapses the
> distinction?  Thoughts?
> Jeremy Hunsinger
> Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
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