The Collaborative Redesign of Wikipedia: How Templates Transformed a Content Management System into a Social Networking Architecture

By Matthijs den Besten.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Observers of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, have long been mesmerized by issues like the quality and quantity of its outputs and the fights and feuds among its contributors. Much less attention has been given to the design of the Wikipedia environment and how it has been shaped in support of its goals. The substrate of this environment if formed by the Wiki content management system which facilitates the editing, display, and archival of articles. An important functionality that is part of this system is the ability to expand templates. Templates are user-defined macros containing strings of text, which, upon expansion, are replaced by a more elaborate presentation. Templates often serve as short-cuts allowing contributors to type only a few words where many more would be needed without them. Yet, in a collaborative environment like Wikipedia, templates can acquire a far greater importance. When they are widely adopted across the community, templates become standards that effectively create a design overlay on top of the software environment. Being standards they can enforce a certain look and feel. Easily traced, they also serve as a means of coordination. In the case of Wikipedia, templates have given rise to the transformation of its original content management system into something that more closely resembles an environment for social networking. Thus they have made possible a form of participatory design that is extremely responsive to the needs of its participants.

Keywords: Change Management, Participatory Design, Virtual Communities, Prosumption

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp.175-186. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.934MB).

Matthijs den Besten

Research Fellow, Oxford e-Research Centre, Ecole Polytechnique, Oxford, Paris, France

Dr. Matthijs den Besten is a research fellow at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. The research for this paper was carried out while Matthijs was James Martin research fellow at the University of Oxford. A participant in the “e-Horizons” project, his main activity over the past three years has been to critically assess competing visions of the future of media, information and communication technologies and their societal implications. Before coming to Oxford, Matthijs served as research fellow at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris and at the University of Surrey in Guildford where he studied open source software development and participatory modeling respectively. Matthijs holds a PhD in Computer Science from Darmstadt University of Technology, a Master’s of Philosophy in Economic and Social History from the University of Oxford, and a Master’s of Science in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Amsterdam.


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