Kellogg World



Collaboration — just a click away
Shane Greenstein talks Wikipedia and the etiquette of working together online

By Sara Langen

  Shane Greenstein

In the Wikipedia community, there is a widely held belief: The more revision applied to an article, the better it becomes. And it would seem in the case of the online, crowdsourced encyclopedia that more is better, if you define better as approaching objectivity.

Shane Greenstein, professor of management and strategy, and Feng Zhu, assistant professor at the University of Southern California, found that the more contributors to a traditional article, the closer the entry moves toward a neutral point of view. But when it comes to Wikipedia, this effect doesn't shape many articles because the majority of entries receive little attention and don't stray very far from the original viewpoint.

Greenstein's ongoing research with Wikipedia is creating benchmarks that illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of online collaboration. He spoke with us about how to get better results and the unwritten rules of working together:

What do your findings say about the culture of collaboration 2.0?
These collaborative results don't emerge solely from revision — they are the product of an etiquette, typically about appropriate behavior. They also emerge from a set of policies designed to encourage good behavior, such as transparency, easy monitoring and dispute resolution.
How can businesses harness the power of these new modes of collaboration?
Moving to collaborative models is quite valuable. You draw information from many sources. You can get a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. I've heard of these applications in a wide variety of places now — for instance, the sales function where you can accumulate a lot of information about a firm. Even outside areas where information is uncontroversial and objective, the model can still work. The way progress is being made today is by finding simple means to enable collaboration.
How do the lessons of traditional collaboration translate to collaboration 2.0?
A lot of the lessons carry over, particularly the importance of etiquette and clear expression of your stance — knowing how to be critical but polite and respectful at the same time. Those lessons that Kellogg is known for retain their value. There are certain kinds of communication that simply can't be replicated online, so finding that boundary is the interesting question.

Online collaboration in action

Here is a list of websites that, according to Greenstein, exemplify successful online collaboration. From amateur pursuits to crowdsourcing ventures, this list includes some innovative minds at work:


“Another place collaboration success is typical is in amateur pursuits and passions that cross into technical boundaries, such as in geocaching. It’s a worldwide hide-and-seek game with an enormous community.”,,,,,

Wikipedia and Wikia

“When I teach about Wikipedia, I ask students to look immediately at Wikia because one’s for profit and one is not, and there are a lot of interesting lessons to be learned by a direct comparison.” and

Minecraft and Lego Group

“Some companies have tried collaborative experiments outside firewalls for marketing purposes, trying to generate a community. And there are successes, such as LEGO and Minecraft, [the latter of which is] a popular game among teenagers.” and


“It’s a question-and-answer website with a very literate, entrepreneurially savvy community.”

Kellogg Architectures of Collaboration Initiative: Technological change and globalization enable people and resources to be organized in new ways across time and space. This initiative helps business leaders manage within and across organizations.