January 2019 Seminar: Making and sharing knowledge in communities: can wikis and related tools help?


At this meeting Andy Mabbett, a hugely experienced Wikipedia editor, gave an introduction to the background of Wikipedia and discussed many of the issues that it raises.
Accumulating, organising and sharing knowledge is never easy; this is the problem Knowledge Management sought to address. Today we hope networked electronic platforms can facilitate the process. They are never enough in themselves, because the issues are essentially human, to do with attitudes, social dynamics and work culture — but good tools certainly help.

In past seminars, NetIKX has looked at MS Sharepoint, but that is proprietary and commercial, and it doesn’t work for wider communities of practice and interest. In this seminar, we looked at a range of alternatives, some of them free of charge and/or open source, together with the social dynamics that make them succeed or fail.
First we looked at the wiki model. The case study was Wikipedia — famous, but poorly understood. Andy Mabbett presented this. Andy is a hugely experienced Wikipedia editor, who inspires respect and affection around the world for his ability to explain how Wikipedia works, and for training novices contributing content – including as a ‘Wikipedian In Residence’ encouraging scientific and cultural organisations to contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia.

A few stats: Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can in theory edit, has now survived 18 years, existing on donations and volunteering. It has accumulated over 40 million articles in 301 languages, and about 500 million visitors a month. The English edition has nearly 5.8 million articles. There are about 300,000 active contributors, of whom 4,000 make over a hundred edits annually.

Under the wider banner of ‘Wikimedia’, there are sister projects such as Wiktionary, Wikiversity, which hosts free learning materials, Wikidata, which is developing a large knowledge base, and the Wikimedia Commons, which holds copyright-free photos, audio and other multimedia resources.

And yet, as the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia admits, “Wikipedia has been criticized for exhibiting systemic bias, for presenting a mixture of ‘truths, half truths, and some falsehoods’, and for being subject to manipulation and spin in controversial topics.” This isn’t so surprising, because humans are involved. It’s a community that has had to struggle with issues of authority and quality control, partiality and sundry other pathologies. Andy provided insight into these problems, and explained how the Wikipedia community organises itself to define, defend and implement its values.

No NetIKX seminar would be complete without syndicate sessions, conducted in parallel table groups. For the second half of the afternoon, each group was presented in turn with tales from two further case studies of knowledge sharing using different platforms and operating under different rules. These endeavours might have used email lists, Google Docs, another kind of wiki software, or some other kind of groupware. There were tales of triumph, but of tribulation too.

At the end of the afternoon polling thoughts helped to identify key factors that may point the way towards building better ways of sharing knowledge.


Andy Mabbett has been a Wikipedia editor (as User:Pigsonthewing) since 2003 and involved with Wikidata since its inception in 2012. He has given presentations about Wikimedia projects on five continents, and has a great deal of experience working with organisations that wish to engage with Wikipedia and its sister projects. With a background in programming and managing websites for local government, Andy has been ‘Wikimedian in Residence’ at ORCID; TED; the Royal Society of Chemistry; The Physiological Society; the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group; and various museums, galleries and archives. He is also the author of three books on the rock band Pink Floyd.

Our case-study witnesses

Sara Culpin is currently Head of Information & Knowledge at CRU International, where she has implemented a successful information and knowledge strategy on a shoestring budget. Since graduating from Loughborough University, she has spent over 25 years in information and knowledge roles at Aon, AT Kearney, PwC, and Deloitte. She is passionate about getting colleagues to share their knowledge across their organisations, while ensuring that their senior managers see the business value. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-culpin-2a1b051

Dr Richard Millwood has a background in school maths education, with a history of applying computers to education, and is Director of Core Education UK. As a researcher in the School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin, he is developing a community of practice for computer science teachers in Ireland and creating workshops for families to develop creative use of computers together. In the 1990s Richard worked with Professor Stephen Heppell to create Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, acting as head 2005–2007. He researched innovation in online higher education in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton until 2013, gaining a PhD by Practice in ‘The Design of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education’.

Time and Venue

2pm on 24th January 2019, The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS

Pre Event Information



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See our blog report: Wikipedia & knowledge sharing

Study Suggestions

Andy Mabbett, experienced Wikipedian

Andy Mabbett is an experienced editor of Wikipedia with more than a million edits to his name. Here’s a link to a ‘Wikijabber’ audio interview with Andy by Sebastian Wallroth (Sept 2017)