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Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 157–169 | Cite as

From open-source software to Wikipedia: ‘Backgrounding’ trust by collective monitoring and reputation tracking

  • Paul B. de Laat
Original Paper

Abstract

Open-content communities that focus on co-creation without requirements for entry have to face the issue of institutional trust in contributors. This research investigates the various ways in which these communities manage this issue. It is shown that communities of open-source software—continue to—rely mainly on hierarchy (reserving write-access for higher echelons), which substitutes (the need for) trust. Encyclopedic communities, though, largely avoid this solution. In the particular case of Wikipedia, which is confronted with persistent vandalism, another arrangement has been pioneered instead. Trust (i.e. full write-access) is ‘backgrounded’ by means of a permanent mobilization of Wikipedians to monitor incoming edits. Computational approaches have been developed for the purpose, yielding both sophisticated monitoring tools that are used by human patrollers, and bots that operate autonomously. Measures of reputation are also under investigation within Wikipedia; their incorporation in monitoring efforts, as an indicator of the trustworthiness of editors, is envisaged. These collective monitoring efforts are interpreted as focusing on avoiding possible damage being inflicted on Wikipedian spaces, thereby being allowed to keep the discretionary powers of editing intact for all users. Further, the essential differences between backgrounding and substituting trust are elaborated. Finally it is argued that the Wikipedian monitoring of new edits, especially by its heavy reliance on computational tools, raises a number of moral questions that need to be answered urgently.

Keywords

Bots Open-source software Reputation Trust Vandalism Wikipedia 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks are due to two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their comments, in particular for alerting me to the comparison with cyber security studies.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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