Microattributions Session at #SOLO11
One of the sessions I attended at the SOLO (Science Online London) 2011 event held in London last week addressed the role of ‘microattributions’ in science (note that there isn’t a specific page on the SOLO11 Web site which I can link to so I have created a Lanyrd page about the Microattributions breakout session).
Use of Microattributions in Wikipedia
The session began with Mike Peel (@Mike_Peel) showing how contributions to Wikipedia provided an example of a service which supports microattributions. Looking at an example which I am familiar with, a year ago in a post entitled How Can We Assess the Impact and ROI of Contributions to Wikipedia? I commented on the potential value of entries in Wikipedia with the example of Andy Powell’s update to the HTTP_303 entry. This entry has been viewed no fewer that 5,032 times in the past 30 days which I think illustrates Wikipedia’s strengths in providing outreach. However I hadn’t been aware that it was possible to view details of the contributions made to Wikipedia articles. Looking at the list of contributors for the HTTP_303 entry I find that Andy Powell is the top contributor, having made 7 updates – between 09.53 and 10:13 on 24 September 2010.
Looking at a more significant article, such as the Wikipedia entry for World Wide Web, we can see that the top contributor, Susan Lesch, has made 253 edits between March 2008 and July 2011. The next most prolific contributor, NigelJ, has made 127 updates followed by the Cluebot bot, which has made 70 automated updates (fixing vandalised updates to the article).
Mike Peel illustrated the importance of being able to identify significant contributors to Wikipedia in a story of Professor Gets Tenure With The Help Of His Wikipedia Contributions. The Wikimedia blog provided further information on the contributions which Professor Michel Aaij had made: “more than 60,000 edits, a couple of Good Articles, a Featured List, almost 150 Did You Knows“.
Microattributions in Scientific Research
Following Mike Peel’s very tangible example of both use of microattributions and the value that they can provide for an individual, Martin Fenner (@mfenner) described the origin of the term. As Martin described in a recent blog blog one of the first mentions of the term appears to be an August 2007 Editorial in Nature Genetics (Compete, collaborate, compel). Martin provided a definition of the term:
Microattribution ascribes a small scholarly contribution to a particular author.
and went on to describe how a paper published in March 2011 in Nature Genetics (Systematic documentation and analysis of human genetic variation in hemoglobinopathies using the microattribution approach) concluded that “microattribution demonstrably increased the reporting of human variants, leading to a comprehensive online resource for systematically describing human genetic variation“.
A Microattribution Article in Wikipedia
During the Microattributions session we heard of several other examples of microattritibutions including contributions to source code on software repositories such as Github.
During the session Mike Peel updated his personal page on Wikipedia with some of the ideas which were discussed. On the page Mike pointed out that there wasn’t a Wikipedia entry on Microattributions and invited volunteers to create a page.
I responded to this challenge and created the initial stub entry for the article, as illustrated.
In my initial draft which, following the suggestion provided by the article creation wizard, I created in my personal Wikipedia space, I included the other examples of microattributions which I mentioned above. However since I wasn’t aware of any significant publication which had documented use of the term in these contexts I defined microattributions in the context of its use in the Nature Genetics paper.
Making Use of Wikipedia in Other Areas
I don’t know if the Microattributions will remain in Wikipedia. It might be deemed to be not sufficiently note-worthy. Or perhaps it could be included in some other entry: what, for example is the relationship between a microattribution and a nanopublication – a term coined, I think, by Barend Mons.
However I am convinced of the importance of Wikipedia for defining scientific and technical terms and documenting significant issues related to their origin and use. Should funders, such as Research Councils and JISC, encourage funded projects to make use of Wikipedia as a dissemination channel which can help to enhance the impact of funded work? If this does happen there will be a need to understand best practices for creating and maintaining sustainable items in Wikipedia, including concepts such as NPOV.
I also feel it would be useful to be able to monitor contributions to Wikipedia across sectors, such as JISC-funded project developments. Although it seems that we can identify individual contributors I don’t know if it is possible to aggregate information related to groups of individuals. Since myself and Andy Powell both have profiles in Wikipedia, is it possible, I wonder, for statistical information about our contributions to be automatically gathered and analysed? I’ll leave that as a challenge to developers
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