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First Oxford Internet Institute Doctor!

Published on
10 May 2010
Max Loubser is the first OII doctoral student to receive his doctoral thesis. His thesis investigates the importance of governance mechanisms in the development (and future viability) of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

We are very pleased to announce that OII Doctoral student Max Loubser has recently received his doctoral thesis ‘Organisational Mechanisms in Peer Productions: The Case of Wikipedia’, which investigates the importance of governance mechanisms in the development (and future viability) of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Max LoubserThe OII began its doctoral teaching in 2006, and currently has twenty doctoral students researching a range of societal issues relating to the Intenet. Max is the first of the original student cohort to receive his thesis. He joined the department in January 2007 (having transfered from the Oxford University Computing Laboratory) and currently works for Google in Zurich. He joined Oxford University in October 2005 as a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College.

Max Loubser’s External Examiner was Dame Wendy Hall, DBE, FRS, FREng, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK, and his Internal Examiner was Professor William Dutton, Director of the OII.

Max’s supervisor, Professor Helen Margetts (OII) said: “Wikipedia has been heralded by some as the most important example of online ‘peer production’, whereby millions of unpaid individuals collaborate to produce a valuable resource for all internet users. This research – which includes a download and analysis of Wikipedia’s entire edit history – investigates how this resource is produced and managed. Research like this will be crucial to the sustainability of goods like Wikipedia in the future, as well as casting new light on how commons based resources are governed.”

Max Loubser’s thesis investigates the importance of the organisational mechanisms that have developed in the governance of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. Theoretically the study challenges Benkler’s view of the social efficiencies of production organised in a peered way and draws on Elinor Ostrom’s work on the emergence of governance institutions in commons resource situations. By identifying peer produced resources as a distinctive type of good with subtractable properties, problems with earlier analyses of information production based on ‘ideal forms’ of peered organisation and commons resources are overcome.

The methods used were empirical, quantitative and methodologically innovative, including the generation (using Wikipedia archives and grid computing resources) of a massive dataset of all individual actions taken by different classes of users on the English Wikipedia between 2001 and 2008 (six terabytes of data!). This dataset was comprehensively analysed to assess the impact and importance of existent and emerging managerial processes in Wikipedia.

The analysis highlights a number of tensions; hierarchical functions are increasingly necessary, yet work done by administrators when exercising managerial authority amount to almost pure overhead. Active, visible, mature and important pages need more management, but their management does not necessarily increase their utility. Productive contributors are frequently excluded by management processes; the growing influence of administrators has an increasingly negative effect on new additions of contributors and articles to the project.

By showing that in all cases some management is essential, but that the growing weight of organizational mechanisms affects production in Wikipedia, the thesis challenges utopian approaches to peer production and has implications for the future design of governance mechanisms in Wikipedia and peer production projects more generally.