The Collaborative Redesign of Wikipedia

10 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2009

Date Written: March 16, 2009


Observers of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, have long been mesmerized by issues like the quality and quantity of its outputs and the fights and feuds among its contributors. Much less attention has been given to the design of the Wikipedia environment and how it has been shaped in support of its goals. The substrate of this environment if formed by the Wiki content management system which facilitates the editing, display, and archival of articles. An important functionality that is part of this system is the ability to expand templates. Templates are user-defined macros containing strings of text, which, upon expansion, are replaced by a more elaborate presentation. Templates often serve as short-cuts allowing contributors to type only a few words where many more would be needed without them. Yet, in a collaborative environment like Wikipedia, templates can acquire a far greater importance. When they are widely adopted across the community, templates become standards that effectively create a design overlay on top of the software environment. Being standards they can enforce a certain look and feel. Easily traced, they also serve as a means of coordination. In the case of Wikipedia, templates have given rise to the transformation of its original content management system into something that more closely resembles an environment for social networking. Thus they have made possible a form of participatory design that is extremely responsive to the needs of its participants.

Suggested Citation

den Besten, Matthijs L., The Collaborative Redesign of Wikipedia (March 16, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Matthijs L. Den Besten (Contact Author)

GSCM-Montpellier Business School ( email )

2300, Avenue des Moulins
Montpellier, 34185