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Wikimania 2007 Taipei :: a Globe in Accord

This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2007 (Index of presentations)

Where Have All The Writers Gone: The Diversion, Distraction and Departure of Wiki "Content Creators"

Author Seth Anthony (Colorado State University)
Track Wikimedia Community
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Seth Anthony
Seth Anthony

Seth Anthony is a graduate student in chemistry education at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. He holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry with a minor in music theory from North Carolina State University, and has been active in the Wikipedia community since 2003. A Wikipedia editor and administrator since 2004, he is also assisting the American Chemical Society's Division of Chemical Education with launching Web 2.0 initiatives.

Often overlooked in cursory analyses of Wiki community dynamics is the dichotomy between the high-profile editors who focus on wiki maintenance and policy and the editors whose primary focus is content creation; past research has suggested that these groups are largely distinct, disjoint, and do not interact heavily with each other. We will present quantitative analysis of Wikipedian editing patterns, with particular attention to the "loss" of content-creators, either due to inactivity or due to diversion into other roles, with particular attention to their interactions with the broader project community. We will then discuss the implications of our results for harnessing the talents of subject specialists in developing quality content.

Building off last year's well-received presentation on Wikipedia community dynamics ("Contribution patterns among active Wikipedians"), we will present additional quantitative data from the information-rich social environment of Wikipedia regarding community dynamics in the wiki environment.

Previous research has shown that the most active Wikipedians fall predominantly into two categories: those whose primary activity relates to wiki policy, administration, and cleanup ("admins"), and those whose primary activity is adding factual encyclopedic content ("writers"). Furthermore, these two classes of editors have similar editing patterns in their early wiki activity, making them often difficult to distinguish.

Preliminary quantitative evidence and copious anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a significant amount of role-switching that occurs as "writers" become more involved with policy creation or site policing and become "admins," or as "admins" become disillusioned with janitorial maintenance or policy debates and return to being "writers" or leave the wiki project altogether

This study will longitudinally examine the editing patterns of a broad cross-section of Wikipedians, offering refined criteria for identifying productive "content creators," exploring the extent to which this "role-switching" occurs, and attempting to identify particular factors which prompt role or activity changes. This will be followed by discussion of the implications of this research with respect to recruitment of content creations and their retention in that role.

The cultural barriers and pressures on content creators in Wikipedia are particularly relevant to the engagement of academics and other subject specialists in article improvement -- a goal currently being actively pursued in the English and German Wikipedias, among others -- and valuable to combating the popular impression of Wikipedia beng written by "amateur" nonspecialist editors. We also hope to be able to identify traits of content creators that external to the project (age, education, etc.) which influence a Wikipedian's "life cycle" and activity.

Although the bulk of this research will focus on data obtained from the archives of the English language version of Wikipedia, we will, time permitting, also discuss the extent to which these roles and the interplay between them differ on wikis of different ages and of different sizes, based on quantitative data available from other wikis, as well as considerations which should be made in interpreting this data with respect to wikis with narrower purposes, cultural differences, or that arise out of pre-existing social structures.

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