Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 264 pp. | 6 x 9 in | August 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014472
Paperback | $18.95 Trade | £14.95 | 264 pp. | 6 x 9 in | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262518208
eBook | $13.95 Trade | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262290005
Mouseover for Online Attention Data
Open Access IconThis is an open access title

Essential Info

Good Faith Collaboration

The Culture of Wikipedia
Foreword by Lawrence Lessig


Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is built by a community—a community of Wikipedians who are expected to “assume good faith” when interacting with one another. In Good Faith Collaboration, Joseph Reagle examines this unique collaborative culture.

Wikipedia, says Reagle, is not the first effort to create a freely shared, universal encyclopedia; its early twentieth-century ancestors include Paul Otlet’s Universal Repository and H. G. Wells’s proposal for a World Brain. Both these projects, like Wikipedia, were fuelled by new technology—which at the time included index cards and microfilm. What distinguishes Wikipedia from these and other more recent ventures is Wikipedia’s good-faith collaborative culture, as seen not only in the writing and editing of articles but also in their discussion pages and edit histories. Keeping an open perspective on both knowledge claims and other contributors, Reagle argues, creates an extraordinary collaborative potential.

Wikipedia’s style of collaborative production has been imitated, analyzed, and satirized. Despite the social unease over its implications for individual autonomy, institutional authority, and the character (and quality) of cultural products, Wikipedia’s good-faith collaborative culture has brought us closer than ever to a realization of the century-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia.

About the Author

Joseph M. Reagle, Jr. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University and the author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (MIT Press).

Table of Contents

  • Good Faith Collaboration
  • History and Foundations of Information Science
  • Edited by Michael Buckland and Jonathan Furner
  • Human Information Retrieval
  • by Julian Warner
  • Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia
  • by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr.
  • Good Faith Collaboration
  • :
  • The Culture of Wikipedia
  • Joseph Michael Reagle Jr.
  • Foreword by Lawrence Lessig
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Joseph Michael Reagle Jr.

  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email

  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by the MIT Press. Printed and bound in the United States of America.

  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  • Reagle, Joseph Michael.
  • Good faith collaboration : the culture of Wikipedia / Joseph Michael Reagle Jr. ; foreword by Lawrence Lessig.
  •  p. cm. — (History and foundations of information science)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01447-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Wikipedia. 2. Electronic encyclopedias—Case studies. 3. Wikis (Computer science)—Case studies. 4. Communication in learning and scholarship—Technological innovations—Case studies. 5. Authorship—Collaboration—Case studies. 6. Online social networks—Case studies. I. Title.
  • AE100.R43 2010
  • 030—dc22
  • 2009052779
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • To my family, a barnstar.
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Lawrence Lessig ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 Nazis and Norms 1
  • 2 The Pursuit of the Universal Encyclopedia 17
  • 3 Good Faith Collaboration 45
  • 4 The Puzzle of Openness 73
  • 5 The Challenges of Consensus 97
  • 6 The Benevolent Dictator 117
  • 7 Encyclopedic Anxiety 137
  • 8 Conclusion: “A Globe in Accord” 169
  • Notes 175
  • Index 235


“[A] fascinating revelation about how Wikipedia is just one of several attempts at creating a universal encyclopedia.”—Jeff Kirchoff, Rhizomes

“Beyond doubt this is a text that captures the spirit of the Wikipedia enterprise; it is definitely an excellent read and an accomplished exercise of transparency.”—José-Carlos Redondo-Olmedilla, The Information Society

“[I] recommend it to the readers as not only serious, but also humorous and entertaining reading, well written and informative to many social and internet scholars.”—Professor Elena Maceviciute, Information Research

“For students of social phenomena, Reagle’s history is a fascinating read, especially in light of Wikileaks...for anyone interested in starting a wiki, his descriptions of problems and solutions are invaluable.”—Bernice Glenn, Computing Reviews

“Ultimately, Reagle offers a compelling case that Wikipedia's most fascinating and unprecedented aspect isn't the encyclopedia itself—rather, it's the collaborative culture that underpins it: brawling, self-reflexive, funny, serious, and full-tilt committed to the project, even if it means setting aside personal differences. Reagle's position as a scholar and a member of the community makes him uniquely situated to describe this culture.”—Cory Doctorow, boingboing


Good Faith Collaboration sheds some much-needed light on one of the most influential resources available today. Joseph Reagle accurately captures the internal collaborative climate of 'good faith' in Wikipedia, and provides an excellent history of its progenitors like Nupedia.”
Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia

“Joseph Reagle is one of a very few people who are both deeply engaged participants in online community and first-rate scholars of it. In Good Faith Collaboration he provides the best explanation to date of how a communally created encyclopedia went from 'crazy idea' to the most important reference work in the English language in less than ten years, and what Wikipedia's massive global experiment in its collaborative culture means for the future of ours.”
Clay Shirky, NYU, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations

“Joseph Reagle's account of what makes Wikipedia tick debunks the vision of a shining Alexandria gliding toward free and perfect knowledge and replaces it with something far more awe-inspiring: a humane, and human, enterprise that with each fitful back-and-forth elicits the best from those it draws in. In an era of polemic and cheap shots that some attribute largely to the Internet's influence, he shows how even those of wildly varying backgrounds who disagree intensely can see themselves as embarked on a common, ennobling mission grounded in respect and reason.”
Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School and Kennedy School, Professor of Computer Science, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and author of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It

“Wikipedia deserves to have its story intelligently told, and Joseph Reagle has done exactly that. Good Faith Collaboration is smart, accessible, and astutely observed. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand how Wikipedia works, and why it matters.”
Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation