Jump to content


From Wikimania

This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006 (Index of presentations)

What can Wikipedia learn from Open Source Software Development?

Panelists Siobhan O'Mahony, Joel West, Kevin Crowston
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the panelists
Siobhán O'Mahony is an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School.

Her research examines technical communities and their relations with firms, the management of innovation and a technical labor force and new forms of cooperation. A pervasive objective is to understand how new social structures emerge when boundaries become blurred and how power differentials contribute to the emergence of negotiated technical orders. Her current research, “Competing on a Common Platform”, examines how over 100 firms contribute to a common technical resource while creating unique sources of competitive differentiation.

She received her Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University.
Joel West has spent his career creating content as a programmer, journalist, photographer, author and academic. From 1987-2002 he was president of Palomar Software, which became the leading supplier of Macintosh drivers for color printer manufacturers. Since 2002 he has been an associate professor at the San José State University College of Business, and he has been a Wikipedia contributor since 2003. His research focuses on cooperative and competitive innovation strategies of IT firms, including work on open source software, open standards and open innovation.
Kevin Crowston is Professor of Information Studies, Syracuse University School of Information Studies.

He received his Ph.D. in Information Technologies from the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1991, and joined the School of Information Studies in 1996.

His current research focuses on new ways of organizing made possible by the extensive use of information technology.

Fans and critics of Wikipedia alike have compared its open collaborative process to open source software development. Both communities maintain transparent development processes and both produce publicly available, free content. However, differences remain. Most contributors to open source software projects are identifiable, which is not necessarily true for Wikipedia. Unlike software, a wiki based encyclopedia is less dependent upon architectural decisions. However, both types of communities share a similar challenge: managing ‘the boundary of an open project’. How can open communities devoted to collaborative production manage growth and improve the quality of contributions, while maintaining open boundaries? These three parameters imply seemingly divergent organizing practices. Yet, managing these tensions is essential for innovation to occur in both communities.

The scholars on this panel have all researched how open source communities have wrestled with: socializing new members to project norms and developing governance systems that can support open and democratic processes. This panel draws upon their work to identify how Wikipedia and open source development projects compare. The panel focuses on the lessons from open source software that are relevant to Wikipedia. Our goal is to identify principles that can simultaneously foster growth, quality and openness.

4Final edit

Full text



Slides Audio