Research:Alternative lifecycles of new users

This page documents a completed research project.

It is often assumed by both Wikipedians and wiki-researchers that new members to organizations tend to undergo a gradual process of socialization. For example, a new user may begin by copyediting, then contribute article content, then learn about project norms, and finally then join 'high-level' community processes like Wikiprojects, Did You Know (DYKs), Articles for Deletion (AfD) debates , and Requests for Adminship discussions. Well-established theories of organizational learning such as legitimate peripheral participation are fundamentally based on this assumption.

This project investigates to what extent new users experience these traditional modes of socialization, and to what extent they undergo alternative lifecycles -- such as a new user creating an article and immediately thrust into an deletion debate. Unlike previous studies which have focused on messages sent to users, this study is focused on individual new users as the primary unit of analysis. And unlike previous studies which have focused on editing trends (or namespaces), this study specifically identifies the different kinds of spaces in which new users are participating.



Broadly, how are new users introduced into the Wikipedian community, and has this changed over time?

More specifically, out of all (via a random sample of) users who have been left at least one talk page message within 30 days of making their first edit:

  • How many users are directly notified about or invited to participate in community processes -- such as AfDs, Wikiprojects, Did You Know (DYKs)
    • How many are notified through templates versus personal messages?
    • What is the relative proportion of each community process?
    • What is the first process they are invited to participate in?
  • How many users participate in community processes within 30 days of making their first edit?
    • What is the relative proportion of each community process?
    • What is the first process they participate in?
    • Note: Because of our sample, these findings are close, but not equivalent to the raw number of new users who participate in those spaces -- which can be later analyzed in totality via quantitative metrics.



The unit of analysis for this study is the individual user, 30 days after they make their first edit. A random sample was generated containing 200 new editors to per each 6 month period between January 2004 and June 2011, for a total of 1,400 editors. Only registered editors who had at least one message left for them on their talk page were included in this sample, and anonymous/IP accounts were excluded. Based on fields in the MediaWiki database, users were automatically coded to determine, after 30 days, if they were blocked, had created a user page, and had edited in each of the namespaces.

Researchers then manually coded each of the new users based on the schema below, relying on the list of messages left for them as well as their contribution histories. Researchers only specifically coded whether or not the new user had been notified of and/or participated in the various community processes within their first 30 days, as well as the first process the user was notified of and/or participated in.

Coding schema


Editor characteristics

  • Blocked
  • Has a userpage
  • Edited various namespaces

List of community activities and processes


These will be coded both in their higher level categories as well as individual bullet point



Notifications of and invitations to participate in various community processes.

  • For the first notification:
    • Templated and/or personalized message
    • Welcome message or otherwise generic invitation
    • Process in question (see list of processes)
  • Has there been a notification of each of the following processes:
    • See list of processes



Levels of participation in various community processes, coded based on examining contribution histories.

  • Has the user, within 30 days of making their first edit, participated in each of the following processes?
    • See list of processes

Data coded


We did not analyze all data this week, but we analyzed the following amounts from each year. The users we coded were randomly selected from each bin sampled.

2004 145
2005 110
2006 216
2008 150

Results and discussion


New users and deletion processes


We found that new users are receiving substantially more notifications that their articles and images are being deleted. This is to be expected because of the rise of the number of deleted articles and images generally as well as bots that notify users of upcoming deletions. However, the dramatic rise between 2005 and 2006 indicates that these notifications grew quite suddenly. In addition, it may be assumed that the increase in notifications of deletion processes to new users would result in an increase in the number of new users who participate in deletion-related spaces. Yet we found the exact opposite: new users are participating in deletion processes at a substantially reduced rate.


New users' participation in community processes


We found that new users are participating substantially less in community processes, across almost all areas of activity. The exception is dispute resolution, which remained relatively flat, and had such a small proportion of edits that the fluctuations can be due to random variance.




Future work


Next week, we will perform this analysis for all years within all time segments, with a full analysis of all 200 randomly-sampled editors in each six-month cohort. We will also determine whether or not the users who participated in each deletion process were participating in response to a deletion notification. This is because we observed a number of users who did not have their own articles nominated for deletion or other notifications, but actively participated in the AfD process as well as a number of other community processes in the first few weeks of their editorship in Wikipedia.