Research:Breaking News Collaborations

Duration:  2010-01 – 2016-01
Open data project  Open data
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Key PersonnelEdit

Project SummaryEdit

Wikipedia’s coverage of breaking news events attracts unique levels of attention; the articles with the most page views, edits, and contributors in any given month since 2003 are related to current events. Extant scholarship has made little effort to understand how online communities like Wikipedia are able to engage in high-tempo knowledge collaboration. Wikipedians editing these topics collaborate under conditions unlike those found on the vast majority of other articles: volatile information, highly-coupled work from dozens of simultaneous editors, and synthesizing new knowledge. This project analyzes how a large online community with diverse capacities for knowledge work is able to temporarily self-organize and rely on improvised responses, regenerated organizational forms, and knowledge encoded into artifacts to support high-tempo knowledge work. These temporary organizations are occasions to diverse members of the community to come together and also supports the exchange of knowledge and skills to improve the collaborative capacity of the community. This project examines the historical and institutional contexts for encyclopedias incorporating new knowledge through history, characterizes the differences in the collaboration structures of articles about breaking and non-breaking articles, analyzes structural patterns in the sequences of edits made by editors, and develops a multi-level statistical model to understand the influence of users and artifacts on the self-organization of these collaborations.


This project will primarily employ descriptive and statistical social network analysis of retrospective data about English Wikipedia editors' contribution histories and articles' revision histories. Articles will be identified based based on either topical (e.g., events in the news) or behavioral (e.g., anomalous bursts of pageview attention) and data about other articles or editors extracted based upon editing, hyperlink, or category relationships.


The findings of this project will be disseminated through academic research conferences and journals as well as academic and community workshops. Several papers have already been published below.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects ProtectionEdit

This project will employ analyses of retrospective observational data about publicly-accessible user revisions to articles as well as content-level textual features. The researchers are unaware of any ethical or human subjects risks posed by this research.

Benefits for the Wikimedia communityEdit

This project will have several substantive benefits for the Wikimedia community.

  • It will examine the prevalence and impact of activity around breaking news articles and how this differs from collaborative behavior around other articles. This has implications for supporting and administering collaborations about trending or breaking news topics.
  • It will highlight opportunities that breaking news articles have for new editor recruitment and promoting editor engagement by identifying technological and normative barriers that inhibit collaboration and participation.


This project is on-going research emerging from doctoral dissertation work at Northwestern University and on-going as post-doctoral research at Northeastern University.




  • Scraping network data from MediaWiki API [1]


  • Keegan, B., Gergle, D., Contractor, N. (2013) “Hot off the Wiki: Structure and Dynamics of Wikipedia’s Coverage of Breaking News Events.” American Behavioral Scientist. [2]
  • Keegan, B. (2013) “A History of Newswork on Wikipedia.” 2013 Joint International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (WikiSym + OpenSym). Hong Kong, China. [3]
  • Keegan, B., Gergle, D., Contractor, N. (2012) “Staying in the Loop: Structure and Dynamics of Wikipedia’s Breaking News Collaborations.” Eighth International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (WikiSym), Linz, Austria. [4]
  • Keegan, B., Gergle, D., Contractor, N. (2012) “Do Editors or Articles Drive Collaboration? Multilevel Statistical Network Analysis of Wikipedia Coauthorship.” ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Seattle, WA, USA. [5]
  • Keegan, B., Gergle, D., Contractor, N. (2011) “Hot off the Wiki: Dynamics, Practices, and Structures in Wikipedia’s Coverage of the Tohoku Catastrophes.” International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (WikiSym), Mountain View, CA. [6]
  • Keegan, B., Gergle, D. (2010) “Egalitarians at the Gate: One-Sided Gatekeeping Practices in Participatory Social Media.” ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW), Savannah, GA. [7]

External linksEdit


Brian C. Keegan, Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Lazer Lab

College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Northeastern University

b.keegan [at] neu [dot] edu

Office: 617.373.7200

Skype: bckeegan