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Posted by on Jun 27, 2009 in Science & Technology | 5 comments

Wikipedia Full of Disagreeable Sourpusses Who Are Closed to New Ideas

Recently I noted Twitter hype punctured by a study that found Twitter users to be self-obsessed. Today Nicholas Carr points to New Scientest and a report that finds Wikipedians are generally “grumpy,” “disagreeable,” and “closed to new ideas.”

Forget altruism:

wikipedialogo.gif[T]he scholars paint a picture of Wikipedians as social maladapts who “feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than they do off-line” and who score poorly on measures of “agreeableness and openness.” Noting that the findings seem in conflict with public perceptions, the researchers suggest that “the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives … which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.”

The researchers also looked at gender differences among Wikipedians. They found that the women who contribute to the online encyclopedia exhibit unusually high levels of introversion. Women in particular, they suggest, “seem to use the Internet as a compensative tool” that allows them to “express themselves” in a way “they find difficult in the offline world.”

And what about those YouTubers?

The study is consistent with other research into the motivations underlying online social production. Last year, researchers at HP Labs undertook an extensive study of why people upload videos to YouTube. They found that contributors are primarily driven by a craving for attention. If the videos they upload aren’t clicked on, they tend to quickly exit the “community.” YouTubers view their contributions not as pieces of “a digital commons” but as “private goods” that are “paid for by attention.”

Carr says none of it is particularly surprising, but he seems to revel in the findings, suggesting that “Social production” might more accurately be termed “antisocial production.”

While I agree that techno-utopians are over the top, I’m not sure the point proves anything. The whole genius of the free market and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and even democracy itself is that they aggregate individual self-interest to some greater good.

If Wikipedia and YouTube and Twitter turn antisocial attention-craving into something more, I’m all for it. It’s not like those who choose the prosocial route of Hollywood or Big Business or Big Government have any altruism about them. Technological developments are always ushered in with such bluster. I rather enjoy it.

RELATED: You may have noticed that Wikipedia turns up in Google news results. Here’s why. And Wikipedia went down, too, in the rush of traffic on news of Michael Jackson’s death. His entry set the record as having the highest traffic in the eight-year history of the online encyclopedia.

LATER — Drawing on Wikipedia cost Google this one:

Oops. Bad, Google. Occasionally the service inserts direct answers to searches at the top of its results. It makes guesses at this, and in the case of michael jackson died, it’s making the wrong guess…Google’s showing that Michael Jackson died in 2007, at age 65. The problem? Google’s drawing on Wikipedia and picking the wrong Michael Jackson, the writer rather than the King Of Pop.

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