Wikipedia as a global memory place

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wikipedia is one of the first "user gener...

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Christian Pentzold, in his article “Fixing the floating gap: The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia as a global memory place” (2009),  argued that the processes of article construction and discussions in Wikipedia can be seen as part of collective memory building. In particular, these processes can be seen as the passage from communicative memory (interactive, informal, non-specialized, reciprocal, disorganized and unstable) to cultural memory (formal, well organized and objective; Assmann, 1995).

From this point of view, we can see that memories in Wikipedia are formed through social interactions between users, and with the platform. In fact, technologies play a key role in shaping how memory is formed (see for example Bowker, 2005; Van House and Churchill, 2008; Garde-Hanse, Hoskins and Reading 2009).

In Wikipedia, there are a number of policies and guidelines which provide behavioral rules that influence the way articles are written and people interact. One of the most important is the “neutral point of view” (NPOV), which means that articles should be accurate, state verifiable information, provide authoritative references and be written proportionately and without biases. Moreover, since Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, it doesn’t promote original research, advertising, personal opinions and memorials of deceased friends, acquaintances or relatives.

However, we can see that sometimes people make use of Wikipedia articles and talk pages also to express grief and mourning, making Wikipedia an interesting place for the study of memory building processes, possibly allowing for the first time the empirical study on a large scale of collective memory processes.

“[…] the online encyclopaedia is a global memory place where locally disconnected participants can express and debate divergent points of view and that this leads to the formation and ratification of shared knowledge that constitutes collective memory.” (Pentzold, 2009, p. 263)

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