The goal of the Emigh and Herring’s (2005) study is to compare entries in the two online user-produced encyclopedias Wikipedia and Everything2. They substantiate their work by referring to an interaction between two forms in communicative situations.
They maintain that “technical specifications predispose users toward certain communicative choices, social dynamics, and normative outcomes, which in turn enable them to realize their situationally-grounded goals” (p. 1). They create their research space by cogently arguing that how this interaction ‘plays out’ is a question of interest and that for their study they are specifically interested in bringing out the type of interaction between user choices and system features as well as the implications of such an interaction for emergent digital genres. The expertise of authors as well as their writing abilities in the case of online encyclopedias are brought to the forefront, along with accompanying concerns related to ‘appropriateness, accuracy and clarity’. After showing that the two encyclopedias employ different systems, the authors spell some of the study goals. Emigh and Herring (p. 3) set out to uncover:
• How similar or different the entries in these two encyclopedias are?
• Which system gives rise to better quality entries?
• What social processes underlie the production of "good" entries, and how do they shape the conventions of the online encyclopedia genre?
• Do sites such as Wikipedia and Everything2, which differ in their authoring and editorial mechanisms, produce communicative content that can be characterized as belonging to a single genre?
After giving some background about the two encyclopedias, the authors cite two interesting studies on Wikipedia.
The authors describe the collection of the nodes (=entries in traditional encyclopedias) they collected from Wikipedia and Evrything2 as well as the entries from the Columbia Encyclopedia. (I made a quick search and found that the node Puffy AmiYumi is now added to Wikipedia—it was not during the collection of the study nodes). Wikipedia discussions are also collected and compared to other data.
Both quantitative and qualitative analyses were performed. Formality, as an indicator of genre, was measured in the data as some sort of quantitative analysis that pinpoints style variation. Qualitative observations of the entries/nodes were also made.
Findings and Suggestions for Future Research:
The results “reveal a continuum of formality and standardization, with the traditional encyclopedia and the interactive discussion at opposite extremes. Wikipedia and Everything2 differ significantly from one another, with Wikipedia towards the formal, standardized end, and Everything2 towards the informal, variable end of the continuum. Surprisingly, Wikipedia is statistically indistinguishable from the print encyclopedia in terms of the formality features measured in this study. (pp.8-9)
Because of such differences, and others, the authors suggest that Wikipedia and Everything2 are “both members of the 'online knowledge repository' genre, but that they represent different genres (or sub-types) of online collaborative authoring environments” (p. 9). Emigh and Herring also add that each of these systems “has its limits and appropriate uses; an understanding of these can improve the future design and implementation of such systems” (p. 10).
Authors hold that analyzing the evolution of entries in online knowledge repositories over time would be useful. Comparing Wikipedia with open-access wikis that lack ‘explicit guidelines for appropriate content’ is also suggested for future research.