Friday, November 20, 2009

Social Identities on TV Tropes Wiki and Wikipedia

Research Questions: What social identities form on TV Tropes Wiki? How does identity formation on TV Tropes differ from that of Wikipedia?

Research Sites:, and as a point of comparison,

TV Tropes is a wiki, the purpose of which is to catalogue the various conventions, or "tropes," used in various media, including but not limited to, TV, movies, anime, western animation, fanfic, manga, theater, and literature.

Data Collection:

I chose four trope pages from TV Tropes and four Wikipedia entries to examine discussion between users. I chose two from each site using each site’s “random” tool. The first entries that came up that 1) had at least two users interacting with each other on the talk page, and 2) for TV Tropes, were pages for tropes and not particular media items or indexes, were chosen. Two more were chosen from Wikipedia that had “Featured Article” status, based upon the front page area allocated to the daily featured articles, and two from TV Tropes that I evaluated as well-referenced and common were chosen, based upon the previous experience that I had with the site. The criteria for choosing these latter four were based upon finding tropes/entries that had a lot of discussion on the talk pages, so as to better evaluate interaction between users. My eight choices are as follows:

TV Tropes


Magnificent Mustaches of Mexico

Italy-Yugoslavia Relations

Prophecies Rhyme All the Time

Peter Mogila

Most Common Superpower

I Don’t Remember (song)

Adaptation Distillation

Grim Fandango

For a quick look at user pages, I looked at the user pages of eight users from each site, chosen from the eight trope discussion pages. From Wikipedia, I chose PaxEquilibrium, Irpen, Randomblue, Sabre, Rjecina, Mzajac, Samuel Sol, and Masem. From TV Tropes, I chose Silent Hunter, Glenn Magus Harvey, Ununnilium, Cassius 335, Martello, Endlessnostalgia, Tabby, and Osh. I also looked deeply into various pages of both wikis that are specifically oriented towards the contributors. The pages that I was searching for had various purposes, such as setting out various rules and guidelines for editing, expressing social norms, and giving contributors an outlet to mitigate social strain and better establish community.


Burke and Reitzes- “Identity and Role Performance”

As a part of their study, Burke and Reitzes discuss the importance and weight of identities, indicating that they are social products, self-meanings, symbolic, and reflexive, but also act as catalysts for actions that result in the confirmation of the identity (242). Thus, a perceived identity can mean greater commitment for the wiki editor, allowing the wiki to thrive. They discuss cognitive and socioemotional bases for commitment (244), which are based on extrinsic praise and on social ties (e.g. being a part of a “posse” in which all participants act similarly), respectively.


Trope/Entry Discussion

Discussion on the talk pages naturally followed the same sort of purpose- for editing the pages that they correspond to. However, while most discussions on both sites generally remained on-topic, TV Tropes users were more likely to respond with snarky comments. This was especially prevalent on the discussion page for “Most Common Superpower,” which is a trope relating to female superheroes with disproportionately large breasts. TV Tropes also has forums and an area called “Troper Tales (tropers can talk about tropes that appear in their everyday lives).” There are multiple places for users to ask for help, including “Ask the Tropers” and “You know that thing where…” There is individual language on each site, as demonstrated in Wikipedia's glossary and in the use of trope names as conversational items on TV Tropes.

User Pages

An optimal site for any user to identify themselves is on their personal user page. On both sites, a user may use text, links, and pictures to personalize their place as a contributor, but Wikipedia goes a little further with the addition of the Userbox. Userboxes are small rectangles with links inside, which may indicate any number of things about the user, from the types of entries they like to edit, to the languages they speak, to their personal offline interests, to the search engines they favor, to their personal identification as WikiFauna (see below). Userboxes may also include a username for Skype or an email address, allowing users to communicate on a one-on-one basis. These allow users to categorize themselves into identities that extend beyond Wikipedia. Of the eight Wikipedia users I surveyed, six out of eight used user boxes (Randomblue did not personalize his user page, and Rjecina was banned). Wikipedia user Masem, in fact, had 33 userboxes on his page. Outside of the userbox, both sites give users the option of personalizing their pages to whatever extent they wish. On Wikipedia, most of the users I looked at listed userboxes, the pages that they contributed heavily to and the page statuses, and awards that they earned. However, on TV Tropes, user pages were a lot less detailed and a lot more casual. Four users had extensive lists of shows that they watched or tropes that they started or helped to name. Users tend to use more casual language on their pages, and user Ununnilium even created hypothetical “Magic: The Gathering” trading cards based on tropes and listed them on his user page. This would make it appear that describing one's identity on TV Tropes is less important.

Actual Roles

Both sites offer various ways to identify oneself within the wiki. Wikipedia has the concept of WikiFauna- various animals and creatures (e.g. WikiPig, WikiElf, WikiKraken, WikiWitch, WikiPlatypus) that indicate a user’s actions on the wiki (e.g. WikiFairies focus on style, color, and design on entries). While we briefly discussed roles and identities on Wikipedia in class, the detail here is tremendous. For example, there are six subsets of WikiElves. I believe that these act as a socioemotional basis for commitment, as the explicit name of the identity gives the user an idea of people who are like or unlike themselves, and whom they seek out (e.g. WikiKnights search for WikiDragons). TV Tropes doesn’t have such a direct and detailed listing of specially-named identities, but does contain common roles played on Wikis as tropes (e.g. Grammar Nazi, Hedge Trimmer). On their user pages, some users identify themselves with these tropes (Ununnilium: “by the way he (referring to self) is such a Grammar Nazi”), but because the identity is considered a trope for all wikis rather than specific to TV Tropes, the identity seems to be more of an afterthought.

Editing and Community Rules

While both wikis have deliberate structure and rules for editing, and both have a rule saying that the rules are loose, differences remain. Wikipedia has a category relating to the rules that is fairly easy to find, with each rule containing a separate detailed essay. TV Tropes does have rules under a category called Administrivia, for which I had to do a search to find. TV Tropes states on their front page, “We are not Wikipedia,” indicating a casual nature that Wikipedia lacks. TV Tropes, does, however, have in their list of Wiki Tropes, some actions that are looked down upon- more like social taboos, for instance, ”Complaining About Shows You Don’t Like (that is, on a trope page),” or being a “Bluenose Bowdlerizer (one that censors innocent text).” There are a few more widely-accepted guidelines. For example, a troper is to avoid Natter (discussion on non-discussion pages) and avoid saying “This Troper (that is, using main pages for personal stories and references).” However, Natter and usage of “This Troper” still appears often, which reflect the nature of the rules as guidelines. Naturally, the role of being a contributor or troper in general hinges on following these rules, and action that helps the wiki is often cause for reward.

Awards and Rewards

I was interested in the way that good and helpful participation on the sites incited rewards as a cognitive basis for commitment. Wikipedia users had barnstars, which a user may post on another user’s page. These are posted in userbox-type boxes, with text that the giver may add themselves. Also within Wikipedia are WikiLove templates, which are user-to-user "gifts" to be posted on user pages as a "thank you" for a good insight, a good edit, or just to spread good will. They usually take shape as various food and drink items. TV Tropes has the Made of Win award, along with sub-awards such as the Made of Forum Win. Made of Win is simply a Wiki-style page that anyone can edit, stating their nomination. If the nominated user takes notice or is notified on their personal talk page, they may post that they have won on their user page, but it is not immediately attached to the user’s personal page, unlike the barnstar. For being a good contributor, the personal nature of the barnstar and the wikilove item may have an effect on personal commitment on a cognitive basis. The Made of Win may have a similar effect, but only if the contributor notices or discovers that they even get the award.


From this data, I would like to suggest that while Wikipedia does not have traditional hierarchical institutional structure, Wikipedia is gaining a more institutional flavor because of its structured nature. The various subtypes of WikiFauna delineate specific duties and roles to play, offering a well-structured in-site communal atmosphere. On TV Tropes, these roles are not prescribed. The casual and humorous language used on the user pages and discussion areas create a social atmosphere of social that is more user-mediated, rather than institutional.

I’d like to suggest that participating on these wikis allow users to demonstrate commitment to identities in the offline world (eg. As a scholar or person of some knowledge, as a fan). However, identities on TV Tropes are more often self-formed and sometimes pre-existing as part of offline society (e.g. I'm a fan of House offline, I'm a fan of House on TV Tropes). People can act more like their casual, everyday selves on TV Tropes, rather than having to take on a staunch, scholarly identity that Wikipedia’s rules might enforce. TV Tropes’ success thrives on the devotedness of the users to their specific media of choice or media in general (that is, if there is no media, there is no TV Tropes), whereas the structure of Wikipedia allows it to act as more of an institution.

Work Cited: Burke, P.J. and Reitzes, D.C. (1991). An identity theory approach to commitment. Social Psychology Quarterly, 54(3), 239 – 251.

No comments:

Post a Comment