New clues to Wikipedia's shared super mind

March 28, 2013

( —Wikipedia's remarkable accuracy and usefulness comes from something larger than the sum of its written contributions, a new study by SFI Research Fellow Simon DeDeo finds.

The free, anonymously written and edited online encyclopedia was widely expected to fall prey to cranks and partisans. Instead, it has proven no less accurate than the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica, according to several analyses of the quality of its information.

"The question is how?" asks DeDeo, who has studied the 11-year-old online knowledge repository as the product of a particularly cooperative human social system. " is an extremely high-functioning system. How do people create societies that have extremely high ?"

A great example of this cooperative nature is Wikipedia's article on former U.S. President George W. Bush – a highly contested piece of Wiki real estate that has been edited some 45,000 times.

"Show me a place on the Internet where people agree about George W. Bush?" asks DeDeo. "But the Wikipedia article reads as if it was written by aliens who didn't care [about Bush] – although we know it was written by people who cared a lot."

Just how Wikipedia manages this collective balance is something DeDeo was able to study in detail because, unlike most other social systems, every Wikipedia edit is recorded.

"It's almost like you had closed circuit cameras running as a society is creating itself," he says, "so every move could be studied and watched."

All these of behaviors create what can be viewed as a historical , like that of a language or even bird song. A bird song, for example, has very simple grammar, with few elements and combinations possible – what's called a finite-state system. The historical language that creates and maintains Wikipedia might be expected to follow a rather limited grammar as well, but that's not what DeDeo discovered.

"The big result is that the Wikipedia behavior is what we call non-finite state," DeDeo says. "It's constantly generating new patterns of behavior that haven't been seen before."

One possibility, he says, is that the unbounded source for these behavior patterns in Wikipedia is shared between people – it's the product of everyone's mind. "That's what's really exciting," he says.

Explore further: English Wikipedia hosts three millionth article

More information: Read DeDeo's paper on Arxiv (December 18, 2012).

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5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2013
It is not strictly accurate to describe Wikipedia as the "free, anonymously written and edited online encyclopedia" as this article does. Many editors, such as myself, associate their real names with their user accounts. Only those edits which are made without creating an account, and which are identified only by an IP address, can be considered truly anonymous. And while it is free to use Wikipedia, it is not free to maintain. Infrastructure, administrative and other costs of this remarkable international endeavor are not trivial. These expenses are covered in large measure through the support of donations by people who use and value Wikipedia. A more accurate description would therefore be the "user supported, collaboratively written and edited, multilingual online encyclopedia."
not rated yet Apr 07, 2013
Isn't it true that Simon Dedeo used to edit Wikipedia as User:Sdedeo? There are comments on his Wikipedia contributions at the time in an article by Greg Lukianoff, titled "Wikipedia and Mud-Slinging" (available online).

I note that User:Sdedeo left Wikipedia in disgust in 2008, alleging "consensus fraud" and advising everybody else on his Wikipedia user page (still extant today) to stop contributing to Wikipedia.

In 2010, Dedeo becomes an Omidyar Fellow, per his online CV. Omidyar is an investor in Wikimedia Foundation according to their website, and was given a Wikimedia board seat a few years back, after donating $2 million to Wikimedia.

And in 2012, Dedeo publishes a study funded by Omidyar Network that, as stated above, finds Wikipedia is "an extremely high-functioning system" boasting "remarkable accuracy and usefulness".

It seems quite a turnaround.

(For more background, see the forum thread "New clues to Wikipedia's shared super mind".)
1 / 5 (2) May 14, 2013
Wikipedia is very important to the evolution of humanity as much so as the internet itself. humanity needs an unbiased record of history written in real time.

World history as we know it today would be very different had it been recorded as it happened.

Forget about the misrecorded history of the past ... the truth of most things that happened before the internet will never be known or recorded anywhere with certainty. The truth is out there on the internet as things actually happen now. The future is more important than the past.

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