Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bot Politics: The Domination, Subversion, and Negotiation of Code in Wikipedia

Catching up on some videos from this year's Wikipedia Research Conference, the most interesting piece was presented by Stuart Geiger titled, "Bot Politics: The Domination, Subversion, and Negotiation of Code in Wikipedia".

The summary...

Recent research in the field of critical software studies has placed much attention on Wikipedia's software infrastructure, focusing on fully-automated bots, semi-automated tools, and other technological actors essential to Wikipedia's normal operation. This research trajectory has clearly demonstrated that such systems have significant sociocultural consequences for Wikipedia. However, this paper gives an alternative view by showing how these software agents are contested and negotiated. Specifically, I analyze the case of a bot created to enforce what was thought to be a near-universal norm: users should sign their comments in discussion spaces. However, this auto-signature bot was subverted by Wikipedian editors, and the ensuing conflict was only resolved by the creation of new standards that were at once social and technical limits on the behavior of humans and non-humans. Complicating the social and technological determinism's prevalent in software studies, this case illustrates that Wikipedia must be analyzed from a hybridized, sociotechnical perspective.

Geiger's main point is something that I have conducted much research on myself... that the creation of software code is inherently political. It can enable or limit certain types of behaviors, and thus the battle over what type of code will be written must inevitably involve decisions over political ideologies and architectures of control.

Overall, a great presentation.

A few other personal favorites from the conference:

A full list of presentations can be found here.


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