The “bestiary of gaps” on Wikipedia

When it comes to the noble goal of creating an open, free repository of knowledge available for anyone to access, with the aim of being the “sum of all human knowledge,” there are a number of “gaps that hurt.” These gaps curtail, limit, even derail this endeavor, participants in the gap finding brainstorming session decided.

“We’ve got not just content gaps, but a bestiary of gaps,” surmised a participant.

Together, we documented six gaps:

  1. Infrastructural access. Broadly defined, there are portions of the world population that do not have access to the internet. Sometimes called the “digital divide,” this is the reality that there’s spotty internet in parts of the world, in parts of major cities. There’s also the reality that even if there are solid cables in place channeling signal over dirt and pipe into homes, schools, or community centers, that there’s a dearth of working, up-to-date computers with the proper software and maintenance. Gaps in infrastructural access are a serious hindrance to people using — let alone editing — a peer-produced project like Wikipedia.
  2. Skill and literacy divisions. Beyond having working equipment, there’s the question of knowing how to use it, and evaluate content critically. Do you know how to update your software? Do you have the literacy to evaluate claims made in advertisements, websites, and news sites? Gaps in the literacy and skill required to use media tools such as an internet browser, internet search engines, and Wikipedia, additionally limit use of, and participation in, Wikipedia.
  3. Time and interest gaps. Assuming the equipment and skill are there, who has time and interest to edit Wikipedia? The work is time consuming, and the rewards are different than in other social media platforms, where the product is not sociality, but “knowledge” defined through a strict set of guidelines. Indeed, editors are discouraged from socializing for the sake of socializing on Wikipedia, and should keep their profiles and interactions focused around the work. Who can would like to do this? For which reasons? What does it mean for the content available when some people don’t participate?
  4. Emotional work. Once someone finds the time to edit Wikipedia, what will it be like? There is a lot of work required to get up to speed, so to speak, on the project. Many links, tutorials, examples, and so forth. And one started, the work is ongoing, since it’s necessary to go back and check up on entries, often at a later date. Moreover, there’s a great deal of evidence of the emotional work required by some users to defend their choices to others.
  5. Knowledge-legitimacy exclusions.Wikipedia defines itself as an encyclopedia, but there are many forms of knowledge that are excluded from this genre of knowledge banking. One is the kinds of sources that are determined to be “acceptable” by the community. Based upon what’s available as secondary sources — Wikipedia privileges “neutrality” as a type of knowing that seemingly is correct or factual, when in fact it replicates existing biases. A few examples include gender and racial biases and present-centric biases. Other ways of knowing are also excluded, including oral histories and feelings as knowledge.  I’ll add that part of the exclusions are in the format. Certain knowledges will be excluded because they are not linear and textual, or can be summarized from a third-person point of view. While yes, there are wiki projects focused on images, these images also encourage the viewer to read the image in a particular way, as a documentation of a fact.
  6. Content gaps. All these gaps contribute to missing content, and often we don’t know what content is even missing.




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