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


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.


Bots Open-source software Reputation Trust Vandalism Wikipedia 



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.


All websites were last accessed on February 10, 2014.

  1. Adler, B. T., Chatterjee, K., de Alfaro, L., Faella, M., Pye, I., & Raman, V. (2008). Assigning trust to Wikipedia content. In Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Wikis (WikiSym’08), September 8–10, 2008, Porto, Portugal.
  2. Adler, B. T., & de Alfaro, L. (2007). A content-driven reputation system for the Wikipedia. In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on World Wide Web, May 8–12, 2007, Banff, Alberta, Canada.
  3. Adler, B. T., de Alfaro, L., Mola-Velasco, S. M., Rosso, P., & West, A. G. (2011). Wikipedia vandalism detection: Combining natural language, metadata, and reputation features. In CICLing ‘11: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics, LNCS 6609 (pp. 277–288), Tokyo, Japan.Google Scholar
  4. Brey, P. (2000). Disclosive computer ethics. Computers and Society, 30(4), 10–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen, L. J. (1989). Belief and acceptance. Mind, New Series, 98(391), 367–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crowston, K., Annabi, H., Howison, J., & Masango, Ch. (2004). Effective work practices for software engineering: Free/libre open source software development. In Proceedings of the 2004 ACM workshop on Interdisciplinary software engineering research (WISER ‘04) (pp. 18–26), ACM, New York, NY, USA.
  7. de Laat, P. B. (2007). Governance of open source software: State of the art. Journal of Management and Governance, 11(2), 165–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. de Laat, P. B. (2010). How can contributors to open-source communities be trusted? On the assumption, inference, and substitution of trust. Ethics and Information Technology, 12(4), 327–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Laat, P. B. (2012a). Open source production of encyclopedias: Editorial policies at the intersection of organizational and epistemological trust. Social Epistemology, 26(1), 71–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Laat, P. B. (2012b). Coercion or empowerment? Moderation of content in Wikipedia as ‘essentially contested’ bureaucratic rules. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(2), 123–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Laat, P. B. (2012c). Navigating between chaos and bureaucracy: Backgrounding trust in open-content communities. In K. Aberer et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Social Informatics, SocInfo 2012, LNCS 7710 , Heidelberg: Springer (pp. 534–557), December 5–7, Lausanne, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  12. de Laat, P. B. (2014). Tools and bots against vandalism: Eroding Wikipedia’s moral order? In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference of Computer Ethics: Philosophical Explorations (CEPE), Paris.Google Scholar
  13. Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. E. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining »Gamification«. In Mindtrek 2011 Proceedings, Tampere: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dutton, W. H. (2008). The wisdom of collaborative network organizations: Capturing the value of networked individuals. Prometheus, 26(3), 211–230.CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  15. Farmer, F. R., & Glass, B. (2010). Building web reputation systems. Sebastopol: O’Reilly.Google Scholar
  16. Forte, A., & Lampe, C. (2013). Defining, understanding, and supporting open collaboration: Lessons from the literature. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(5), 535–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gilbert, D., Krull, D., & Malone, P. (1990). Unbelieving the unbelievable: Some problems in the rejection of false information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(4), 601–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Holck, J., & Jørgensen, N. (2005). Do not check in on red: Control meets anarchy in two open source projects. In S. Koch (Ed.), Free/open source software development (pp. 1–26). Hershey: Idea Group.Google Scholar
  19. Jaques, E. (1956). Measurement of responsibility: A study of work, payment, and individual capacity. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  20. McGeer, V. (2008). Trust, hope and empowerment. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 86(2), 237–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Moran, R. (2005). Getting told and being believed. Philosophers’ Imprint, 5(5); also published in J. Lackey, & E. Sosa (Eds.) (2006), The epistemology of testimony (pp. 272–306). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. O’Connor, A. C., & Loomis, R. J. (2010). Economic analysis of role-based access control. Prepared for NIST.
  23. Orsila, H., Geldenhuys, J., Ruokonen, A., & Hammouda, I. (2009). Trust issues in open source software development. In N. Medvidovic, & T. Tamai (Eds.), Proceedings of the Warm Up Workshop for ACM/IEEE ICSE 2010 (WUP ‘09) (pp. 9–12), ACM, New York, NY, USA.
  24. Pullinger, K. (2012). A million penguins’ five years on, blog post from 25 January 2012.
  25. Scarfone, K. and Mell, P. (2007). Guide to intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS). NIST Special Publication 800-94.
  26. Sperber, D., Clément, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G., & Wilson, D. (2010). Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language, 25, 359–393.Google Scholar
  27. West, A. G. (2011). Anti‐vandalism research: The year in review (Presentation at Wikimania 2011).
  28. West, A. G., Chang, J., Venkatasubramanian, K. K., & Lee, I. (2012). Trust in collaborative web applications. Future Generation Computer Systems, 28 (8), 1238–1251. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations