Tomorrow, on June 29, Wikipedia will add a new way of giving feedback to its contributors. The ‘WikiLove‘ feature is modeled after Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, a medium for the social network’s members to provide one another with instant praise. WikiLove, however, differs slightly. Readers have the opportunity to show their appreciation for a particular entry in the online encyclopedia by offering the author digital kittens or glasses of beer.
This may seem unusual, but Wikipedia’s designers have their reasons. Positive reinforcement, they argue, encourages contributors to continue submitting material to the encyclopedia. The WikiLove feature is one response to a recent slump in contributions, and Wikipedia believes that creating an outlet for readers’ to express their praise will revitalize the online knowledge community.
The question is whether the peculiar WikiLove twist will work. Wikipedia’s critics argue that an email inbox filled with images of frothy beer steins, while delicious-looking, can only go so far compared to the real thing. Scholars in composition studies contend that writing for an audience makes the process more meaningful, but still, in a position statement on teaching, learning, and assessing writing in digital environments, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) emphasizes that writing is social by nature, and audience feedback in the form of digital gift-giving may not pass muster. Thus, although the WikiLove function offers a streamlined way to communicate approval, writers should be wary of instantaneous forms of assessment, positive and negative alike.
Nevertheless, if an online knowledge community like Wikipedia is exploring modes of instant feedback, will other communities follow suit? It seems unlikely that the online portfolio platform Digication, for instance, will add a ‘Like’ button anytime soon, but what if the WikiLove experiment were to catch on?
At the UCWbL, we have our own thoughts about this. While skeptical, tutors Mo C. and Ashley H. suggest that something like WikiLove or a ‘Like’ button might make Digication more familiar and personable for students who are new to the e-portfolio genre. This in turn might expand the audience of such platforms. At the same time, tutor Nathalia O. believes a composition course should emphasize thoughtful, carefully crafted peer feedback. In any case, for better or for worse, this would likely mean digital beer consumption is off the table.