Administrative Support Bots in Wikipedia: How Automation Can Transform the Affordances of Platforms and the Governance of Communities

Communicating with Machines Workshop


June 14, 2016
9:00am to 10:00am
Fukuoka, Japan

Abstract: I discuss cases from a multi-year ethnographic study of automated software agents in Wikipedia, where ‘bots’ have fundamentally transformed the nature of the ‘anyone can edit’ encyclopedia project. Bots and bot developers have long been a core part of the Wikipedian community, and I studied how the development and operation of automated software agents intersected with the development of organizational and epistemic norms. My ethnographic project involved participant-observation in various spaces of Wikipedia: both routine editorial activity in Wikipedia (which is assisted through bots) and specific work in bot development, including proposing, developing, and operating a bot of my own. I also conducted extensive historical analysis of the history of Wikipedia, including case studies of bots throughout Wikipedia’s 15 year history.


R. Stuart Geiger

BIDS Alum – Ethnographer

Former BIDS Ethnographer Stuart Geiger is now a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, jointly appointed in the Department of Communication and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. At BIDS, as an ethnographer of science and technology, he studied the infrastructures and institutions that support the production of knowledge. He launched the Best Practices in Data Science discussion group in 2019, having been one of the original members of the MSDSE Data Science Studies Working Group. Previously, his work on Wikipedia focused on the community of volunteer editors who produce and maintain an open encyclopedia. He also studied distributed scientific research networks and projects, including the Long-Term Ecological Research Network and the Open Science Grid. In Wikipedia and scientific research, he studied topics including newcomer socialization, community governance, specialization and professionalization, quality control and verification, cooperation and conflict, the roles of support staff and technicians, and diversity and inclusion. And, as these communities are made possible through software systems, he studied how the design of software tools and systems intersect with all of these issues.  He received an undergraduate degree at UT Austin, and an MA in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University, where he began empirically studying communities using qualitative and ethnographic methods.  As part of receiving his PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information, he worked with anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, organizational and management scholars, designers, and computer scientists.