Chapter 11. Beautiful History: Visualizing Wikipedia

Martin Wattenberg

Fernanda Viégas

IN THE EARLY YEARS OF WIKIPEDIA, we created several visualizations to illuminate the workings of the online encyclopedia. This chapter will take you through our process, from initial sketches to working programs to scientific papers. The messages to take away are the importance of working with real data at all steps; the benefits of starting with rough, preliminary visualizations; and finally, that visualization is just one piece of a larger analysis. The story also illustrates the intuitions that can guide a successful visualization project, from sensing when an area could benefit from visualization to determining when a visualization might be "done."

Depicting Group Editing

Our story begins in 2003. The two of us were working at IBM's Collaborative User Experience Research Lab, which studies how people work together online. We saw that new forms of collaboration were taking place on the Internet and wanted to investigate them. There were many to choose from—this was the time that "Web 2.0" was just beginning to take off—but Wikipedia particularly fascinated us.

In 2003, just two years after the online encyclopedia's birth, the site was still not well known, and among those aware of it there was serious skepticism about its open authorship model. We felt some of this skepticism ourselves, yet many of the articles were interesting and helpful. What was going on? How was such a haphazard process yielding ...

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