Saturday, November 3, 2007

What Motivates Wikipedians?

Blaise Cronin recently met with my co-founder at ChaCha, Scott Jones to discuss the advancements we are making in online knowledge sharing. During the discussion, Blaise shared an article written by Oded Nov in the November issue of Communications of the ACM entitled "What Motivates Wikipedians?"

This was of particular interest to me given the great deal of work and research we have done at ChaCha building a scalable online workforce of knowledgeable people who are motivated to help others. The article is focused entirely on the motivations and corresponding contribution levels among those who write and edit articles on Wikipedia.

One extremely important factor that is not addressed at all in the findings is that of the credibility and accuracy of information that is delivered. Wikipedia has been banned in at least one case as a credible source for definitive information which indicates that the investigation into what motivates those who provide user-generated content lacks sufficient depth. To make this data truly meaningful it seems that one must also look into what motivates those who provide accurate contributions to user-generated content projects. For now, let's just focus on the analysis in Oded's article as it is interesting and useful.

Oded asserts that user-generated content is simply another form of volunteering. And, as such, the factors underpinning volunteering activity can help explain why people contribute to Wikipedia. Those factors are fun, ideology, values, understanding, enhancement, protective, career, and social. In looking at the correlation between these factors and user contribution levels, the following key observations were made:
  • Fun ("Writing and editing in Wikipedia is fun") proved to have the strongest correlation between the level of motivation and the level of contribution.
  • Although survey respondents listed ideology ("I think information should be free") as an important motivator, there was a negative correlation between level of contribution and ideology as a motivator. Oded postulates that the best reason for this is "talk is cheap". In other words, people say they care about ideology but in reality it is not much of a motivator after all.
  • The older people are, the more they are motivated by enhancement ("Writing/editing in Wikipedia makes me feel needed"), fun, and protective ("By writing/editing in Wikipedia I feel less lonely") factors.
Given the explosion of user-generated content and the legions of people who provide their knowledge free of charge, it is clear that this powerful trend is here to stay. Oded's initial article on this topic is a useful starting point and much deeper research and exploration into the motivation, contribution, and accuracy levels will be needed before a comprehensive view on this topic can be presented.

In addition to the credibility and accuracy questions I raise above, I also wonder in which cases the content is merely shared for entertainment purposes vs. a true desire to share knowledge or answer important questions.

What do you think? Send me comments to let me know.


HappyHoosier8 said...

I agree that there are many people that are altruistic and see providing information and articles on Wikipedia as a great way to "give back". There are also millions of people who write Wikipedia articles to be a part of something bigger. This aligns perfectly with the social/communication phenomenon that occurs naturally from cells to city dwellers and everywhere in between.

But in reference to your comment that credibility and accuracy is not addressed, I am not sure that this would be something we could expect as a motivator for Wikipedians. Would it motivate you to write an article for Wikipedia if you had to be 100% accurate?

We all need to remember that Wikipedia is a "free encyclopedia written collaboratively volunteers" thus hindering the factuality and credibility element to the site somewhat. Humans are not perfect. They're generally intuitive, sensitive and intelligent, but not omniscient. While it's a great resource for information, those who use Wikipedia religiously as a source for factual data should step back for a moment. The articles are great, but just because they're listed on Wikipedia, does not make them the best factual resource.

Where would one go for completely factual information, you ask? I think that answer is clear. The Onion.

Dan said...

I am a guide with chacha, and I find this take on Wiki interesting considering the extent that we went through in the beginning phases last year to get our own Wiki post approved.

It took us almost a month to get our initial article validated, which included a couple of us acting through wiki on behalf of chacha to resolve disputes of the credibility. There are several checks and balances that are in place to help with validation, and to be sure that articles are coming with credible information to back them.

I do agree that there are times where content may be inaccurate, but I have found more errors while doing a search on,, and other "credible" sources than I have when double checking information on wiki.

Linda said...

Well, I like to use Wikipedia for many reasons. 1. to look up DVD information (episode names etc). 2. I like to see different views merged all into one page especially with political topics. 3. For the most part I think they are accurate but it's a good starting point.

If I want to look something up I usually check wiki and then search different search engines to get all the facts.