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Open Source Production of Encyclopedias: Editorial Policies at the Intersection of Organizational and Epistemological Trust

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Abstract:

The ideas behind open source software are currently applied to the production of encyclopedias. A sample of six English text-based, neutral-point-of-view, online encyclopedias of the kind are identified: h2g2, Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, Encyclopedia of Earth, Citizendium and Knol. How do these projects deal with the problem of trusting their participants to behave as competent and loyal encyclopedists? Editorial policies for soliciting and processing content are shown to range from high discretion to low discretion; that is, from granting unlimited trust to limited trust. Their conceptions of the proper role for experts are also explored and it is argued that to a great extent they determine editorial policies. Subsequently, internal discussions about quality guarantee at Wikipedia are rendered. All indications are that review and “super-review” of new edits will become policy, to be performed by Wikipedians with a better reputation. Finally, while for encyclopedias the issue of organizational trust largely coincides with epistemological trust, a link is made with theories about the acceptance of testimony. It is argued that both non-reductionist views (the “acceptance principle” and the “assurance view”) and reductionist ones (an appeal to background conditions, and a—newly defined—“expertise view”) have been implemented in editorial strategies over the past decade.

Keywords: Encyclopedia; Open Source; Testimony; Trust; Wikipedia

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02691728.2011.605478

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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