Almost any time a group photo is snapped, we hear the inevitable, “Say, ‘cheese’!” America is obsessed with melting it all over our favorite pastas, breads, and meats. We eat in shreds, we eat it in slices, we eat it in cubes. Cheese is truly beloved. But how much do we really know about it? Everyone might know an off-the-wall fact or two about their favorite cheese, but does anyone really have the whole picture? Where could one go to unite their factoids into a beautiful mosaic with other enthusiasts’ factoids? One word: Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is the poster child for a brilliant concept that media scholar Henry Jenkins refers to as “collective intelligence.” As Jenkins defines it in his weblog, collective intelligence refers to “the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal” (Jenkins). From the front door, Wikipedia might not look all that collaborative, but behind the scenes, intelligence is being collected, discussed, corrected, and adapted almost all the time by many different contributors. Take, for example, cheese’s page on Wikipedia. The “Talk” page indicated below reveals ongoing behind-the-scenes discussion about cheese.
These thirty-eight discussion topics and dates are almost as diverse as the usernames that suggested them. The screen capture below highlights two topics with very different points and dates. The March Edit Request shows a great example of collaboration and collective intelligence: A user with IP address 22.214.171.124 notes a redirect loop that doesn’t quite take the reader where they should go, and another user, Abductive, rebuilt the redirect loop. They each contributed a small piece of their own personal knowledge (the former knew about a more appropriate page to redirect toward and the latter knew how to rebuild the loop).
The “View history” tab of the main article (pictured below) also offers substantial evidence as to the collective nature of compiling and editing the Wikipedia Cheese page.
Diving into the data collected within the page reveals that tons of users– 3,455 at the time of this analysis– chipped in little bits and bytes to the final page as we see it today. 2,561 different IP addresses were logged as contributing to the page, and it has undergone renovation from late October of 2011 to late February of this year.
Looking at the breakdown of edits per user, it’s evident that everyone has indeed pooled their smaller caches of knowledge toward building a comprehensive page, as even the top editor has contributed less than 25% to the page, and all the others in the top 10 come in at around 2% each.
Lastly, the surge in editing of this particular wiki article came shortly after it was featured on the Wikipedia home page.
This may seem unimportant or unrelated, but it’s interesting to note that collective intelligence implies that many people converge on a widely visible topic for a short time in order to flesh out a more complete understanding of it, and this article was heavily converged upon shortly after it became widely visible through the Wikipedia home page feature.
All this in mind, it seems quite safe to say that making “Cheese” on Wikipedia was definitely a job for the collected masses.
Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About The New Media Literacies (Parts One and Two).” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. WordPress. 26-27 June 2007. Web. 8 March 2015.
“Cheese.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. October 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.