Past week I attended the Hypertext 2011 conference in Eindhoven where I presented the paper “Social networks of Wikipedia” discussing two different algorithms for extracting networks of conversations from User Talk pages in Wikipedia and evaluating them against the manual coding of all messages in User Talk pages of the Venetian Wikipedia. The main point was listing all the many details in Wikipedia practices and formatting styles that you need to be aware of if you want to derive realistic results from your quantitative analysis. The code of the algorithms is available as open source and some network datasets extracted from Wikipedia as well.
The conference was smaller than what I expected but interesting. There were some people working on Wikipedia and I had many interesting conversations with them.
The best talk was hands down the one by Noshir Contractor titled “From Disasters to WoW: Using Web Science to Understand and Enable 21st Century Multidimensional Networks”. He spoke about the many different great works is doing in an entertaining and funny style. The main methodological take-away message I got is that he is looking at networks at the edge level, considering the “motivation” for each edge (positive/negative links, in fact) and seeing how much different established sociological theories such as homophily, social balance, winner takes it all, etc are able to explain the topology of the network. For example 4 networks extracted from 4 different kinds of interactions of the same users of an online massive multi player game (I think “who fights with whom, who is in guild with whom, who exchanges messages with whoms, who trades goods with whom) exhibit different patterns and the particular orientation of a certain network can be explained by the balance of the motivations explained by the different theories. In particular the network of “who trades goods with whom” has special “motivations” that are influenced by the presence of so-called goldfarmers, people typically in China or other average-low-income countries who play online games doing repetitive tasks with the goal to acquire in-game currency that is usually sold against real-world currency to other players. One of their paper about this “Mapping Gold Farming Back to Offline Clandestine Organizations: Methodological, Theoretical, and Ethical Challenges” won the award for Best Paper at the recent Game Behind the Game conference. What I was really surprised to hear is that he is working as well on Wikipedia!
In fact, in his keynote, Noshir presented some recent work he has been doing with one of his students, Brian Keegan, about Wikipedia’s coverage of breaking news articles such as the Japan earthquake. Interestingly Michela Ferron and I wrote a paper titled “Wikipedia as a Lens for Studying the Real-time Formation of Collective Memories of Revolutions” in which we highlight the richness of the phenomena of collective memory building on Wikipedia about the current north-African revolutions (all the Wikipedia pages get created few minutes or days after the events and receive an incredible number of edits from many different users, what we interpret as a process of collective memory building) and we discuss research directions (more info about this in a next blog post). Out article was recently accepted in the “International Journal of Communication” and we are of course delighted by that. Actually the editor of IJoC is Manuel Castells, who will be giving a keynote at the upcoming ICWSM about … guess what? Social Media and Wiki-Revolutions: The New Frontier of Political Change. I guess it is really a hot topic nowadays, which is both conforting (we are doing cool stuff) and worrying (because these guys are really good and it is hard to do better … but we will try ;)
Actually in two weeks Noshir will come to Trento to give a one week course on Social Network Analysis which I’m really looking forward to attend and I hope to gather further insights via discussions with him.
The other guys who presented works about Wikipedia at Hypertext conference were David Laniado and his colleagues from Barcelona Media who presented “Co-authorship 2.0: Patterns of collaboration in Wikipedia“, an interesting analysis of networks of coediting on Wikipedia and its comparison with networks of scientific co-authoring. He was also there with a poster about “Automatically assigning Wikipedia articles to macro-categories”, joint work with Jacopo Farina and David Laniado.
There was also another very interesting work titled “Social Capital Increases Efficiency of Collaboration Among Wikipedia Editors” presented by Keiichi Nemoto of Fuji Xerox who was working with Peter Gloor and Robert Laubacher of MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. They found the more cohesive and more centralized the collaboration network of Wikipedia editors and the more network members were already collaborating before starting to work together on an article, the faster the article they work on will be promoted to good or featured article.
Overall it was good to discover interesting projects and meet good people working on Wikipedia which I hope I’ll keep meeting at future conferences.