Harvard publishes case study on Wikipedia

Harvard Business School has written a case study on Wikipedia. The article describes some of the social practices that take place in the Wikipedia community.

Research indicated that many people around the world contributed content to Wikipedia and that this initial content was then refined over time by a relatively small group of editors.

This seems to suggest that initial contributions are a stimulus around which a group of people form. The result of the collaboration of this group is to arrive at a new Wikipedia article.

in August of 2006 the Wikimedia Foundation had only five full-time employees

An amazing statistic that defies the substantial amounts of money that some companies can spend in moderating and maintaining forums. How is this achieved? Largely by the fact that anyone can edit the Wikipedia entries. Well understood processes, such as
AfD (article for deletion) and RfA (request for adminship), are used to make decisions. Although these are lengthy and time consuming, these ultimately result in greater engagement of users to the Wikipedia site. In fact, the extent of this engagement is sometimes to the detriment of the original reason people join the site - to create articles:

Nicholas Carr: three high-ranking Wikipedians... describe Wikipedia's increasingly complex governance structure, from its proliferation of hierarchical roles to its "career paths" to its regulatory committees and processes to its arcane content templates. We learn that working the bureaucracy tends to become its own reward for the most dedicated Wikipedians: "Creating fewer articles as time goes on seems fairly common as people get caught up in the politics and discussion rather than the editing."

That contents of articles are debated has other negative consequences too - it deters real experts from contributing to the site:

Larry Sanger: nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will—at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy—be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts.

Despite possibly deterring experts, Wikipedia does however seem to be sufficiently accurate as an Encyclopedia.

In late 2005, the scientific journal Nature, the top-ranked science journal, conducted a study comparing the accuracy of science entries in Wikipedia and the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica. The research involved examining the same set of 42 science articles from each reference work. It revealed that Encyclopedia Britannica had 123 errors while Wikipedia had 162 (for averages of 2.9 and 3.9 errors per article)....
most readers simply want to know whether a source can generally be relied upon. What these results say to me is that Wikipedia isn't bad in this regard.

Wikipedia has defied critics and has worked as a concept: an Encyclopedia created through the collaboration of normal people. Part of the reason for its success is likely to be due to the way in which the site has maintained the interest and attention of it's contributors - through roles, processes and policies that engage users in discussion .