Research:Codex/Roles of contributors
Contributors play different roles on Wikimedia sites. Those roles may be formally recognized by communities (e.g. "administrator), or emerge from patterns of behavior (e.g. "copyeditor").
Academic researchers have investigated roles on Wikipedia as a way to understand the mechanisms of collaboration and quality. The motivation and methods for researching roles on Wikipedia have to some extent been inherited from earlier research on online communities, like Usenet newsgroups. Wikipedia researchers initially used more qualitative methods, like ethnography. In recent years, the methods have been more quantitative and computational.
Identifying roles as patterns of behavior is often done by classifying edits into categories, or based on the user's access privileges. The most robust identification methods rely on multi-level analysis and structural signatures built from characteristics of different types.
One of the main models representing the roles played by contributors is the core−periphery structure, which distinguishes between a very active, committed group of core users, and a periphery of less active, more occasional users who focus on creating content on specific topics of interest.
To date, academic studies have largely focused on the English Wikipedia. Some other language editions have been studied as well, but sister projects have not.
Little is known about the temporal evolution of roles over a contributor's editing lifetime. Very little is known about the relationship between roles and demographics, and between roles and community health.
See also: This topic on
Why do we want to know about the roles of contributors?
- "Community health: when communities rely on key people to enact roles, how does their presence affect the productivity and longevity of the group" 
- Formal vs. informal groups: "As organizations grow, they increasingly need to formalize roles", including some that may may be "poorly understood" or "actually counterproductive to the goals of the organization" 
- "The classification of types of social relations and behaviors into a smaller set of roles reduces the analytic complexity of social systems and facilitates the comparative study of populations across time and settings." 
- "When designing a collaborative knowledge system it is important to predict who will be using the system for what purposes, and to make design decisions and feature choices that support important users." 
What do we want to know about the roles of contributors?
- What are the roles that contributors play on Wikimedia sites?
- Are there common role paths that contributors take during their life cycle?
- Is the health of a community related to the role distribution of its members?
- Are demographics and social roles related?
The following table lists the main academic publications synthesized in this document.
Items are sorted chronologically by year of publication, then alphabetically.
"Based on" means that the study reproduces, extends, or otherwise heavily builds on another study from this table, beyond the common review of the relevant extant literature.
|Ref.||First author||Year||Summary||Roles on Wikipedia||Concepts & methods||Scope||Based on|
|||Golder||2004||Social roles in Usenet. Great link between many sociological approaches and online communities.||—||Ethnography, frequency analysis||selection of Usenet newsgroups|
|||Viégas||2004||Visualizations of activity in Usenet||—||Data visualization||selection of Usenet newsgroups|
|||Anthony||2005||Motivation & quality||Zealots, good Samaritans||Multivariate analysis||fr.wikipedia,|
|||Bryant||2005||Legitimate peripheral participation & activity theory. Socialization into a community of practice.||Novices, experts (Wikipedians)||Ethnographic interviews, legitimate peripheral participation, activity theory||en.wikipedia|
|||Wales||2005||Analysis of the distribution of edit numbers by users||Core community||—||en.wikipedia|
|||Fisher||2006||Structural signatures → social roles in Usenet||—||Social network analysis||selection of Usenet newsgroups|
|||Swartz||2006−2007||Analysis of edit content persistence||The Gang of 500, the Anonymous Horde||Content survival analysis||selection of articles from en.wikipedia|
|||Kittur||2007||Breakdown of edits by position/activity||Administrators, elite users (The Few), common users (the Crowd)||—||en.wikipedia, del.icio.us|||
|||Ortega||2007||Breakdown of edits by position/activity||Administrators||—||en.wikipedia, sv.wikipedia, Norwegian Wikipedia|||
|||Viégas||2007||Description and analysis of the "Featured Article" process||Featured Articles director||Ethnography, interviews||en.wikipedia|
|||Wattenberg||2007||Visualization of editing patterns of administrators||Administrators||Data visualization||en.wikipedia|
|||Welser||2007||Social roles in Usenet based on structural signatures||—||Data visualization, ethnography, social network analysis, multivariate analysis, ordinary least squares||selection of Usenet newsgroups|||
|||Burke||2008||Stated criteria and actual determinants of promotion to administrator status||Administrators||Policy capturing||en.wikipedia|
|formal/informal subgroups; ideological, functional, and content-related lines.||basic user states: uunregistered user, registered user, Arbitration Committee member
groups: ideological (deletionists, inclusionists), functional / wiki-professions (vandal-fighters, committees, OTRS), content-related (WikiProjects); Technical powers (admins, CU etc.); ArbCom; Jimmy Wales
|Ethnography, interviews, thick description||en.wikipedia|||
|||Kriplean||2008||Barnstars → work types||—||Coding||en.wikipedia|
|Stvilia||2008||[FIXME: summarize ]|
|Anthony||2009||[FIXME: summarize ]|
|||Gleave||2009||Social roles in online communities (symbolic interactionism)||Vandal fighter, substantive expert, technical editor||Social identity theory, symbolic interactionism, social network analysis||Usenet, en.wikipedia|
|||Jahnke||2009||Evolution of social structure over time in a university forum.||—||Design-based research||Informatics Portal University of Dortmund (InPUD)|
|||Monaci||2009||Wikipedia as commons-based peer production: roles vs. rules as antecedents of quality||Administrator, steward, checkuser, bureaucrat, Featured Articles director||Ethnography, interviews||it.wikipedia|||
|||Panciera||2009||Breakdown of edits and content persistence by levels of activity||Wikipedians, non-Wikipedians||Content survival analysis||en.wikipedia|||
|||Preece||2009||Synthesis of studies into the "Reader to leader" framework||—||—||online communities|
|||Thom-Santelli||2009||Patterns of ownership by primary contributors of an article||Maintainers||Ethnography, interviews||en.wikipedia|
|||Arazy||2010||Edit type classification, and visualization of authorship for a given article||—||Data visualization||en.wikipedia|
|||Geiger||2010||Ethnographic study of the actors, tools and processes involved in the banning of a disruptive editor.||Vandal, vandal fighter, automated bots||Ethnography||en.wikipedia|
|||Iba||2010||Patterns in networks||Coolfarmers (mediators, zealots), egoboosters||Social network analysis||ja.wikipedia, en.wikipedia|
|||Leskovec||2010||Mechanisms and dynamics of deliberation in RfAs||—||—||en.wikipedia|
|||Niederer||2010||Argument on the socio-technical nature of Wikipedia||Humans, non-human content agents (bots), software-assisted human editors||—||selection of large and small Wikipedia language editions|
|||Bender||2011||Efforts in self-presentation of credibility in Wikipedia discussions||administrators, registered editors, unregistered editors||Coding||en.wikipedia|
|||Strijbos||2010||Roles in computer-supported collaborative learning: emerging roles, scripted roles||—||—||CSCL environments|
|||Strijbos||2010||Roles in computer-supported collaborative learning: levels of roles and participative stances||—||—||CSCL environments|
|||Arazy||2011||Effects of group composition and task conflict on article quality||Administrative-oriented members, content-oriented members||Social group||en.wikipedia|
|||Liu||2011||Effects of article-level roles and collaboration patterns on quality||Casual contributors, all-round contributors, watchdogs, starters, content justifiers, copyeditors, cleaners||Input-process-output model, stratified sampling, k-means clustering, multinomial logistic regression||en.wikipedia|||
|||Postigo||2011||Social roles and values in a third party community||—||Ethnography||Web 2.0, Digital Universe|
|||Welser||2011||Social roles in Wikipedia & replenishment||Substantive expert, technical editor, counter-vandalism, social networkers||Ethnography, social network analysis||en.wikipedia|||
|||Forestier||2012||Review of methods to identify emerging and explicit roles in social networks||—||Social network analysis||online communities|
|||Arazy||2014||Roles and their hierarchy on Wikipedia based on access privileges||Unregistered users, new registered users, manually registered users, technical administration, border patrol, quality assurance, QA technicians, administrators, security force, directors, privacy commissioner, benevolent dictator||Ethnography, exploratory factor analysis, partial least squares regression||en.wikipedia|
|||Qin||2014||[FIXME: summarize ]|
|||Daxenberger||2015||[FIXME: summarize ]|
|||Arazy||2015||Functional roles in Wikipedia & transition dynamics, based on access privileges||Same as Arazy 2014||Multivariate analysis of variance||en.wikipedia|||
|||Détienne||2016||[FIXME: summarize ]|
|||Yang||2016||Social role composition of editors, and their impact on article quality||Social networker, fact checker, substantive expert, copy editor, wiki gnomes, vandal fighter, fact updater, Wikipedian||Ensemble method classifier, latent Dirichlet allocation||en.wikipedia|||
Social roles in sociologyEdit
[FIXME: write up this section ]
Roles in online communitiesEdit
Adaptation of the role concept to online communitiesEdit
Before the concept of social role was applied to Wikipedia, it was used to study behavior in online communities, notably in Usenet newsgroups. Golder & Donath pioneered the use of "the concept of social roles as an analytical tool for studying online communities":
We discussed what a social role is, and discussed the ideas we will use as tools to construct our taxonomy of roles. These included communicative competence, Hymes’ concept of the ability to conduct oneself linguistically according to social norms of the community; participation inequality, Whittaker et al.'s (1998) observation that users participate at widely different rates; and Jones and Pittman's (1982) five strategies for strategic self-presentation.
Those five strategies for "strategic interaction" are: intimidation, supplication, ingratiation, exemplification, and self-promotion. Another criterion used by Golder & Donath was "common ground", the "knowledge that resides in a community, [and] knowledge about community members’ attitudes toward that knowledge. Their rich approach, bridging several disciplines, has however not been followed much in later work.
Drawing from the extant research in sociology, Gleave et al. proposed a definition of social roles for online communities as a combination of behavioral and relational patterns. They argued that roles originated from commonalities in behavior before being recognized culturally by the group, and that roles served as a source of both constraints and opportunities for action.
In 2010, Strijbos & Weinberger edited a special issue on roles in computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL). Their goal was to bridge the two main perspectives on roles in CSCL: emerging roles, which arise when "learners structure and self-regulate their CSCL processes", and scripted roles, which are specified externally and assigned to learners "to structure the collaborative process". Strijbos & De Laat then reviewed publications about emerging roles in CSCL, and distinguished "three levels for the role concept":
- "Role as a task (micro-level): Specified activity focused on the collaborative product or process"
- "Role as a pattern (meso-level): Multiple tasks focused on the product, process or a combination"
- "Role as a stance (macro-level): An individuals’ participative pattern based on their attitude towards the task and collaborative learning".
They then defined a set of stances based on three dimensions: group size, orientation (towards individual or group goals), and effort.
The computer-mediated nature of online communities has led to their analysis in terms of sociotechnical systems, in order to study the intricate relationship between people and technology, and their often mutual influence on each other. For example, while proposing a framing to study a participatory portal for human rights organizations, Postigo notably elaborated on the notion of roles in Web 2.0 sites, how they were both enabled and constrained by the platform, and how they evolved with social practice:
Designers, throughout the design process, imagine specific activities for users, they discuss them at length, and they try to anticipate what users might do, how they will relate to each other, and how they might push on the possibilities and affordances of the technical architecture. Designers, in other words, envision roles. These visions of roles are coded into the architecture of a given web portal or interface. Users, in turn, develop positions within the sociotechnical architecture based on the design implemented through a portal. How users relate to each other, what their expectations are, what they communicate to each other, and how they communicate it are to some degree the result of the roles afforded them by the social and technical architecture they inhabit. […]
Roles are never, in practice, exactly what designers might envision. […] It is through identity that people embrace the role beyond what was intended by designers or afforded through the dynamics of the social structure: They reject roles, challenge them, disrupt them, and so on. Regardless, roles are a result of the design process; whether they endure or are challenged is a mix of both the social dynamics and technological affordances.
Jahnke later studied the evolution over time of social roles in a university forum, as a proxy for studying social structure. She found that, over six years, the community "evolved from an informal trust-based community with only a few formal roles to a STC [Socio-Technical Community] where social mechanisms, and not the software architecture, support knowledge management processes."
Researchers developed several methods to identify roles in Usenet newsgroups. For example, Viégas & Smith created visualizations of newsgroup crowds and author lines. The author lines chart, in particular, "reveals temporal patterns of thread initiation and reply that can broadly characterize the roles authors play in Usenet". They notably identified patterns of "answer person" (or "pollinator"), debater, "bursty" contributors, and newcomers (question askers).
Other methods were based on social network analysis. Fisher et al. primarily used "egocentric social networks constructed through patterns of reply", built for a distance of 1 and 2 neighbors. For example, in technical support groups, they identified "those who ask questions" and "those who answer", whereas a discussion group is a "tightly-connected newsgroup" sometimes showing a core−periphery structure.
Researchers like Welser et al. then started combining different methods to build "structural signatures", i.e. "patterned characteristics of communication between network members". Using multiple visualization methods (author lines, local network neighborhoods/egocentric networks, and distribution of neighbors' degree), they identified several roles (answer person, discussion person) that they tested with manual coding of message content. They then translated those results into metrics to predictively assign roles to users based on their signature.
To identify roles, Gleave et al advocated for a dual iterative approach that combined interpretive analysis (e.g. ethnography and content analysis) and structural analysis (network analysis to uncover structural signatures in relationships between members). They also offered guidance on how to define a particular role at different levels of analysis: behavioral regularities, network attributes, social actions, self identification, role definition, and abstract classifications.
Identifying roles on WikipediaEdit
Types of studiesEdit
While the vast majority of studies have aimed to identify roles at the wiki level, a few researchers have focused on characterizing the behavior of contributors at a smaller scale, for example over a given article's lifetime, or during a specific discussion.
In Wikipedia research, roles have usually been studied as static concepts. Some studies have touched on the evolving nature of roles, like the shift of the administrator role from a technical position to one of higher authority. Others have studied role dynamics, looking at changes in formal roles as recorded in access level logs.
Most researchers have assigned individual roles to contributors; others have recognized that "people can perform roles to varying degrees and may play multiple roles", and have characterized their behavior as a compound of different roles.
Emerging and formal rolesEdit
The two primary dimensions through which roles have historically been studied (structure and culture) have led to two corresponding families of identification methods: one focused on unearthing patterns in behavior and deriving the roles that emerge from them, and the other focused on studying formal roles that have been explicitly recognized (and named) by members of the group. In the academic literature, the former are usually called emerging roles, and the latter formal roles.
An example of emerging role on Wikimedia sites is the one of "substantive expert", identified for instance by studying the modifications made by a given user, and noticing that they often add large amount of high-quality content in articles related to a specific topic (assumed to be their area of expertise). "Substantive expert" is not a role formally recognized by the group; although experts are welcome on Wikipedia, external credentials don't carry particular significance in the group.
In contrast, administrators play a formal role, tied to a recognized position within the group, also associated with additional technical capabilities conferred by the software. In this case, identifying an administrator does not require analyzing their behavior. Similarly, some users choose to self-identify as "WikiGnomes", i.e. users who "work behind the scenes of a wiki, tying up little loose ends and making things run more smoothly". This self-identification can be achieved through different means, like a category or a standardized token on their user page (e.g. a user box or a top icon). Identifying as a WikiGnome does not confer any particular status or special privileges, but it is still recognized as a role.
Emerging and formal roles may overlap to some extent, notably for explicit roles that have been formalized by the group based on patterns of behavior. For instance, "examples of WikiGnome-like behavior include fixing typos, correcting poor grammar, creating redirects, adding categories, and repairing broken links. Typical behavior is ticking the 'This is a minor edit' before saving any edit."
However, the perspective used by both approaches is also their limitation: emerging behavioral patterns (automatically identified by algorithms and statistical significance thresholds) may not map to socially relevant, or commonly understood, roles, and may be difficult to label. Welser et al. cautioned that "Focusing on lower-level behavioral regularities or distinctive positions is flawed because it is overly inductive: through extensive analysis of behavioral and social data, we may detect an enormous number of patterns, but there is no a priori reason to think that the ones that initially stand out will be of any social significance."
Conversely, users claiming to play a given formal role (like administrator or WikiGnome) may not actually exhibit the behavior characteristic of those roles. Although Gleave et al. advocated in 2009 for a "dual iterative approach" to identifying roles, which combines structural and interpretive analysis, as of 2016 few researchers have followed that advice.
The two families of identification approaches were summarized in 2012 by Forestier et al., who published a review of methods and research issues related to identifying explicit and non-explicit roles in social networks. In social network analysis, non-explicit roles are identified using "unsupervised Machine Learning techniques in order to group automatically the data into (non-predefined) role categories". This includes two subtypes of methods: one relying on blockmodels that focuses on network structure and features (and possibly content), and another based on probabilistic Bayesian models that mainly focuses on textual content (and possibly on structure).
Explicit roles, on the other hand, are described by Forestier et al. as "already predefined and [their] identification inside a social network regards the detection of certain criteria that are satisfied by some users", for example "experts" or "influencers". The researcher's explicit roles, however, don't necessarily map bijectively to the group's own formal roles. Explicit roles then need to be operationalized using social network analysis, participation behavior, content analysis, or a combination of these methods. This results in a "structural signature" that represents explicit roles quantitatively.
Many of the methods used by researchers to study roles on Wikimedia sites are similar to those used in earlier years to study roles in other online communities, like Usenet. In fact, several researchers studied both Usenet and Wikipedia using similar methods (for example Viégas and Welser), sometimes simultaneously. In the context of Wikipedia, structural signatures for characterizing explicit roles can be defined using several of the methods also used independently to identify emerging roles.
Edit type classificationEdit
- Main article: Research Codex: Types of edits
Most of the activity of contributors on Wikimedia wikis is done through page modifications. Some actions, like the deletion of a page, are listed in action logs, but editing an article, communicating with another contributor on the wiki, or establishing consensus on a request for adminship is all done by editing a wiki page. The pseudonymous nature of Wikimedia wikis implies that studying contributors can only be done by studying their behavior on the wiki, or studying information they have voluntarily disclosed, either publicly (e.g. their name) or directly to the researcher (e.g. through an interview or a survey).
Therefore, it is not surprising that most of the studies of contributor roles have been based on a purely behavioral analysis of the users' edits. This is often done by classifying the contributors' edits, which can range from a breakdown by Wikipedia namespace to deeper analysis of the edit's content and metadata.
For example, Arazy et al. developed tools to analyze and visualize "contributions of wiki editors along several authorship categories", like "improve navigation" or "proofread". Liu & Ram identified article-specific roles by classifying "actions that can affect a Wikipedia article", like "sentence creation" or "reference modification". They clustered those actions into emerging roles, and then also clustered patterns of collaboration (distribution of roles) for specific articles to determine a correlation with final quality.
Yang et al. analyzed the content of revisions to determined edit categories and to describe the types of changes made by editors; a revision could be assigned to multiple categories, for example if it entailed both "grammar" and "template insertion" changes. The authors then derived roles based on patterns that emerged from the classes of edits, in order to identify the mixtures of roles making up a contributor.
Researchers have also classified edits using metadata like edit summaries, sometimes provided by the contributor to summarize their modification, and attached to the edit. Examples include the chromograms by Wattenberg et al., based on automatic coding of edit summaries and the titles of edited pages.
Several studies have been based on a combination of different methods. Burke & Kraut's model for adminship was based on characteristics of the user's edits, like variety of experience and edit summaries. The administration−content orientation scale constructed by Arazy et al. relied on parameters such as number of edits, their dispersion, and access privileges.
Position and level of activityEdit
Another popular way of identifying a contributor's role(s) is to use a their position in the community or their level of activity. The two approaches are sometimes combined. For example, Kittur et al. distinguished between "elite" and "common" contributors", "with the elite defined either by status (administrators) or by participation level (high-edit users)". Ortega et al. used a similar approach in their follow-up study. Panciera et al. used a fixed threshold of 250 modifications for their study, and then broke down the group further by number of edits. Arazy et al. based their approach entirely on access privileges and the technical abilities conferred by the software, and in a follow-up study considered the access level logs to determine position changes.
However, Forte & Bruckman warned that "the main danger in equating technical and social power is that it leads one to overlook the potentially enormous power that can be held by regular users of Wikipedia. [For example,] the Arbitration Committee wields considerable influence in the community." Indeed, when Arazy et al. ranked roles based on technical abilities, they found that the "intermediate" levels were only so in their classification, not in actual role paths. They acknowledged that "future studies [should] employ a multi-method approach", for example by combining "access privileges, activity count, and additional recognition one receives".
Social network analysisEdit
- Main article: Research Codex: Social networks
A few studies have been conducted using social network analysis to identify roles on Wikipedia, falling into two categories: networks built from article histories, and egocentric (user-centric) networks. In 2010, Iba et al. built networks based on sequential interactions of users in the history of featured articles, and found patterns such as "snakes" on "wheels".  They also studied characteristics such as the betweenness centrality of specific contributors. Egocentric networks, which represents interaction of a given user with its neighbors, have been used as components of structural signatures.
Other methods of identificationEdit
Ethnographic methods, such as observation and interviews, have been popular approaches for descriptive analyses of formal roles, particularly in early years of Wikipedia research. Some powerful roles, like the one of Arbitration committee member, have only appeared in ethnographic research, and have been largely ignored in quantitative studies.
Researchers have also used other artifacts to identify roles. For example, Kriplean et al. used social tokens on Wikipedia ("barnstars") to identify different types of work considered valuable by other contributors. Although their focus was on classifying "WikiWork", by surfacing patterns of behavior they effectively identified roles exhibited by contributors: "Templated barnstars, such as the Copy Editor’s Barnstar, may reflect and start to reify a role structure that impacts how members articulate work."
Thom-Santelli used the Maintained template, occasionally affixed to article talk pages, to to identify the associated "Maintainers". Bender et al. analyzed authority claims in a set of Wikipedia discussions, in order to determine "whether the repetition or combination of certain claim types over the course of a discussion indicate that an editor is trying to inhabit a particular social role or pursue a specific social goal".
Emerging roles, contrary to formal roles, are determined through interpretation of patterns or artifacts. The variety of methods used is reflected in the diversity of roles that emerge from them. Some researchers set out to study a specific subset of roles, while others aim for a broader scope and rely on machine-assisted statistical grouping. Therefore, the list of roles presented in this section should not be seen as exhaustive.
Roles emerging from wiki-wide contributor behaviorEdit
In 2011, Welser et al. identified four "key roles": "substantive experts, technical editors, vandal fighters, and social networkers". The roles were not exhaustive, mutually exclusive, or "even necessarily the most common", but were deemed "socially meaningful" and "important […] in the construction of the encyclopedia".
In 2016, Yang et al. analyzed edits from the English Wikipedia to identify roles played by editors and examined how those roles affected the quality of articles. They identified eight roles: social networker, fact checker, substantive expert, copy editor, wiki gnomes, vandal fighter, fact updater, and Wikipedian. They found that most editors played between one and three roles.
Roles emerging from article-specific contributor behaviorEdit
In 2010, Iba et al. analyzed the networks generated from sequential edits on featured articles. They identified "coolfarmers", "the authors and editors who […] are the indispensable backbone of the Wikipedia community", highlighting their centrality, and their success in "coordinating the editing process to produce a featured article". They studied the networks generated from some of their talk pages, and distinguished between those who were "mostly conciliatory in nature" (labeled "mediators"), and those who were "quite provocative at times" ("zealots"). Last, they defined "egoboosters" as editors whose "main reason for participating is furthering their own agenda by editing their own profile", and noted three network patterns characteristic of egoboosters with varying degrees of control.
In 2011, Liu & Ram studied a set of articles to identify collaboration patterns and examine their correlation with article quality. They sought to "identify mutually exclusive roles played by contributors for a specific article" and found six roles: all-round contributors, watchdogs, starters, content justifiers, copyeditors, and cleaners. Infrequent contributors were labeled as "casual contributors".
Roles emerging from access privilegesEdit
In 2014, Arazy et al. studied the access privileges of participants on the English-language Wikipedia to describe "Wikipedia's organizational structure", by "categorizing the many access privileges into a smaller set of higher-order roles and describing the hierarchical relationships between these roles". They found twelve "higher-order role classes": unregistered users, new registered users, manually registered users, technical administration, border patrol, quality assurance, QA technicians, administrators, security force (also called "executives"), directors, privacy commissioner, and benevolent dictator. They also proposed a power hierarchy of those roles based on those that encompassed, granted, or had access to permissions of other roles. They noted that their results "may force Wikipedians to come to terms with the discrepancy between their ideal community structure and the hierarchy that emerged in practice."
In 2015, Arazy et al. followed up on their classification and examined the distributions of edits for the roles. While analyzing the distribution of edits by namespace, they found that "editors at Level 3 and above [administrators and above] consistently present a significant number of contributions to meta pages which pertain to community activity […]. Level 2 roles, on the other hand, [like account creators, rollbackers, and abuse filter maintainers] present very high levels of activity at very specific namespaces linked to their particular duties". They examined the "proportions of role population over time" and notably found that "the introduction of additional functions (namely, Level 2 roles) was necessary for curating the mounting number of new contributions."
Other emerging rolesEdit
In 2009, Thom-Santelli et al. interviewed a set of "Maintainers" of specific articles. They analyzed the expression of territoriality using templates, the maintainers' feelings of ownership, and the defensive actions they undertook as a result.
Formal roles are easier to identify than emerging roles, because there is often an existing source of truth that provides a binary determination to the researcher. Of the variety of formal roles on Wikimedia sites, administrators have been the most studied.
Some researchers have studied the process of becoming an administrator. For example, Burke & Kraut compared stated and actual criteria, and created a model that could be used to identify users likely to successfully become administrators. Leskovec et al. found that the process showed "fundamental forms of relative assessment" of the candidate by the voters.
Other studies have focused on the activity of administrators. For example, Ortega et al. found that re-electing administrators every year on the Swedish-language Wikipedia may be responsible for their higher activity levels than in other language editions, as they had to re-demonstrate their commitment to the community. Wattenberg et al. visualized editing patterns of administrators using "chromograms", and found that they commonly alternated sessions of different types of work:
Admins usually switched between multiple tasks, rarely concentrating on the same type of work continuously. At the same time, certain focal tasks seem to occupy a significant proportion of their time. These focal tasks fell into two types. Some were systematic; one tell-tale signature of such activities is a long alphabetically ordered sequence of article titles in the edit history. Other tasks were reactive, as admins reacted to vandalism or requests from other Wikipedia users.
Forte & Bruckman's interviews of Wikipedia contributors highlighted a change in the role of administrators, from a purely technical function to a position of social authority:
Despite the traditional division between technical and social powers on the site, administrators are beginning to step into more authoritative roles and are making more and more interpretive and "moral" decisions about user behavior. Nearly every interviewee suggested that, for better or for worse, the role of administrator carries with it more social authority today than it ever has in the past.
The administrator position is sometimes used as a criteria for identifying "elite" or "administrative-oriented" contributors, as opposed to their "common" or "content-oriented" counterparts, respectively. Administrators are considered part of the "core" in core−periphery representations.
- Main article: Research Codex: Automated contribution
Many researchers choose to filter out automated contributions from their analyses, and to instead focus on human contributors. However, at first glance, edits made by a bot or a very consistent human are nearly indistinguishable, and some researchers have emphasized the symbiotic relationship between humans and bots.
For example, Geiger and Ribes studied the "banning of a vandal" on Wikipedia, and in doing so notably focused on "the social roles of software tools in the English-language Wikipedia". They argued that, in addition to "purely social actors", "the encyclopedia project's unlikely and unexpected success must also be attributed to a whole host of technological actors, who diligently work alongside human editors in the editorial and administrative process". They showed that the ban of the studied disruptive editor had been the result of "distributed cognition" between "four editors—three humans and one bot". Last, they emphasized the role of technical tools in enabling "a form of distributed coordination among otherwise disconnected vandal fighters" and in "redistributing moral agency".
In 2010, Niederer and van Dijck analyzed "the intricate collaboration between human users and automated content agents". They argued that "human editors would never be able to keep up the online encyclopedia if they weren't assisted by a large number of software robots", and that "it is the intricate collaboration between large numbers of human users and sophisticated automated systems that defines Wikipedia's ultimate success as a knowledge instrument". They investigated the "relative balance of human versus non-human contributions" and noted that "high levels of bot activity […] are an indicator of small or endangered languages".
Other formal rolesEdit
Formal roles have often been described in the academic literature in a qualitative manner. For example, Viégas et al. examined the role of the Featured Article Director, and Forte & Bruckman conducted interviews to describe norms and policies on Wikipedia. In their analysis, they described the "different kinds of groups" and "social roles that make up the community":
Registered users often self-select into formal and informal subgroups along ideological, functional, and content-related lines. […] Examples of stable ideological groups include deletionists […] and inclusionists. […]
Functional groups can be thought of as wiki professions. Examples of functional groups include vandal-fighters […], committees such as the Bot Approvals Group […], and volunteers who manage the email help-ticket system for requests from the public.
Stable content-related subgroups are coalitions of editors with common interests or expertise; these have proliferated widely as "WikiProjects".
Registered users may also hold various technical powers that are generally understood to be distinct from the social influence they exert as individual community members.
They mentioned the "technical powers" (e.g. administrator, checkuser) and the dissonance between their "janitorial" presentation by users, and their actual influence:
In practice, we found that technical and social power cannot be entirely uncoupled. In fact, people who retain the most powerful technical capabilities on the site are always individuals who are highly trusted and well known by established members of the community. As such, they tend to be capable of exerting considerable influence socially.
Formal roles described by communities and practitionersEdit
Wikimedia communities have recognized many other formal roles. While they may not have been the subject of academic research, they have been described by the communities themselves, as well as by practitioners. For example, the English Wikipedia contains detailed documentation about user access , functionaries ("specialized roles" with "privileged technical access"), and WikiFauna ("a characterization […] that a Wikipedian may use to further convey something about themselves", like "WikiGnome").
Other efforts include: the Movement roles project, an initiative to "clarify the roles and responsibilities of different groups working to support the international Wikimedia movement", and the Contribution Taxonomy Project, an attempt to create "a comprehensive classification of the different types of roles volunteers may take". At the Wikimedia Foundation, outreach staff created a list of "Wikimedia Volunteer Roles" and "Personae on Wikipedia". Personæ have since been adopted as a tool for product development and user experience research.
On MeatballWiki, a wiki dedicated to online communities, contributors also developed early description of roles, some of which are applicable to Wikimedia contributors.
- Main article: Research Codex: Theories, models and frameworks
Many researchers have characterized the community of Wikipedia contributors using concepts similar to the one of core−periphery structure, generally composed of "a dense, cohesive core and a sparse, unconnected periphery". From this perspective, on Wikipedia the "core" is usually composed of highly-active, committed, persistent editors who perform various types of contributions on a wide range of topics. The "periphery", in contrast, refers to less active, less committed, more occasional editors who mostly focus on content creation on a specific topic of interest. This concept has been declined into many variations outlined below.
Early debate about work and valueEdit
Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales is often cited as having done early calculations about the most active Wikipedians, and sharing his findings in several talks. In one such talk given in 2005, he described the "core community" as "a dedicated group of a few hundred volunteers who know each other":
So I did some research into the edit histories of Wikipedia […]. I had expected to find something like an 80/20 rule, that 80 percent of the work was being done by 20 percent of the users. But it turns out it's actually much, much tighter than that.
Over half of all the edits to English Wikipedia […] are done by under one percent of the users. That means 615 people are responsible for half of the edits to English Wikipedia. […] These are the people who are really working and really writing Wikipedia. The most active 2 percent, which is around 1750 people, have done almost three-quarters of all the work.
After seeing some of Wales's talks, Swartz made additional calculations, focusing on the content of edits and its persistence over time. He found that while committed Wikipedians (whom he calls "The Gang of 500") did make the bulk of the total number of edits in his sample, it was casual contributors ("The Anonymous Horde") who contributed the most persistent content:
Wales seems to think that the vast majority of users are just [vandalizing or contributing small fixes] while the core group of Wikipedians writes the actual bulk of the article. But that’s not at all what I found. Almost every time I saw a substantive edit, I found the user who had contributed it was not an active user of the site. […] When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site — the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it’s the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.
Swartz's work brought to light an earlier investigation by Anthony, who had classified edits whether they were "edits with negative value [e.g. vandalism], edits without content value (but still necessary!) [e.g. dispute resolution], and edits with content value". On a limited sample, Anthony found that content was generally not created by administrators:
Early in their Wikipedia careers, [admins] edited less frequently […], created content more […], edited less consistently. Content creators seem to be occasional and less frequent editors, may be specialists (subject matter knowledge). Admins [are] former content creators, now janitors.
He later summarized his results like so: 
Only about 10% of all edits on Wikipedia actually add substantive content. Roughly a third of those edits are made by someone without an account, half of someone without a userpage (a minimal threshold for considering whether someone is part of the "community"). The average content-adder has less than 200 edits: much less, in many cases.
In 2007, Kittur et al. followed the same line of investigation to resolve the apparent conflict between Wales's and Swartz's hypotheses. They analyzed the full history of Wikipedia edits as of July 2006, and broke them down by users over time. They showed that the proportion of edits made by "elite" users (either administrators, or users with over 10,000 edits) had been decreasing since 2003, due to an increase in the number of "novice" (under 100 edits) and "common" (non-admin, or 100–10,000 edits) users. Looking at the content of edits, however, they found that more experienced users still added more content per edit than novices:
Although Wikipedia was driven by the influence of “elite” users early on, more recently there has been a dramatic shift in workload to the “common” user. […] The rise in edits by users with less than 100 edits is driving the declining proportion of high-edit user influence. […] The low-edit group is increasing in size faster than the high-edit group […] Though their influence may have waned in recent years, elite users appear to continue to contribute a sizeable portion of the work done in Wikipedia. […] The more experienced the user, the more content is contributed. Indeed, novice users appear to remove more content than they create.
In 2005, Anthony et al. examined motivations as antecedents to quality in Wikipedia contributions. They found that quality contributions came from both committed users (Coleman's "Zealots"), and "passerby contributors" who only contributed a few times:
Good Samaritans contribute higher quality content than either registered users with similar levels of participation, or other anonymous users who have higher levels of participation. […]
Consistent with the expectations of the open source community and with previous studies of open source goods, we find that zealots and highly committed experts contribute high quality content. […] Our finding that anonymous Good Samaritans contribute high quality content to open source goods is both novel and unexpected by social science theory.
In 2005, Bryant et al. conducted interviews to understand how "novices" become "experts" (or "Wikipedians"). While they focused on the socialization process, they also touched on the specialization of Wikipedians:
While most of the participants stated that they continued to write and edit new articles, even as they expanded their activities, one said that he did very little of that, instead concentrating on “meta” tasks related to keeping the Wikipedia community productive. The main role that Wikipedians adopt seems to be that of a watchdog—monitoring community activities looking for opportunities to help and correct mistakes. […] One user provided an example of a sub-community within Wikipedia [the Welcome Committee], whose members fulfill a particular need in the broader community.
In 2009, Panciera et al. sought to study "power editors" of Wikipedia, the "small portion of editors [who] account for most of the work done […] and the value produced". They defined "Wikipedians" as registered users "who have made at least 250 edits over their [account's] lifetime", and "non-Wikipedians" as all other registered users. They found that "Wikipedians" made more edits on average than non-Wikipedians, including during their first days of contribution. Their results also indicated that "Wikipedians" maintained higher-volume and constant levels of activity over time, and made higher-quality edits than non-Wikipedians on average. In 2011, Arazy et al. studied the effects of group composition and task conflict on article quality. They defined a construct of group member orientation and placed participants on an administration−content continuous scale. Administrative-oriented members were characterized by a high commitment and identification with the community, high engagement and participation, edits distributed across many topics, and advanced responsibilities; content-oriented members, on the opposite, remained distant from the rest of the community, edited less, and focused their contributions on a few subjects. The authors also defined a construct of cognitive diversity ("differences in educational on functional background, expertise or knowledge"), and examined the influence of both orientation and diversity on article quality, considering authors of each article as a distinct social group. They found that both orientations had an impact on quality, and that cognitive diversity had a positive influence on task conflict when conflict was high:
The presence of occasional editors contributes to the group, as these content-oriented contributors often possess domain-specific expertise. Administratively oriented members, however, can help the group restrain and diffuse task conflict. Last, groups that contain members with diverse knowledge bases and experiences may benefit from the variety of opinions, especially in the presence of task conflict that promotes creative abrasion.
The following table attempts to provide a synthesis of all the roles (formal, emerging or explicit) that have been described in the scientific literature. It does not include formal roles that have not been the subject of academic study.
An emerging role is defined by patterns of behaviors (either qualitative or software-generated) and labeled a posteriori by the researcher. A formal role is formally recognized within the group studied. An explicit role is defined by the researcher a priori of the study and then experimentally tested, but not formally recognized by the group studied. When the role appeared differently across studies, the several types are listed.
Roles are sorted by type (formal, emerging, explicit), then alphabetically. Role aliases and descriptions are sorted in the chronological order of the publications that described them.
●: matches a software position of the same name; ▲: matches a software position of a different name; ◮: may match a software position of a different name; ◬: matches a group of software positions.
||formal||● ◬[Note 1]|
|Arbitration committee member||The Arbitration committee was "conceived of as the last step in a formal dispute resolution process […]; however, today it appears to often serve as a more general decision-making body."||formal|
|Bot||"Bots – short for 'robots' – are fully-automated software agents that perform algorithmically-defined tasks involved with editing, maintenance, and administration in Wikipedia."||formal||●|
|Bot Approvals Group member||Contributors "who review and approve software that can automatically edit the site".||formal|
|Bureaucrat||"Exceptionally trusted users who are allowed to perform certain actions on other users' accounts" like granting the administrator privilege.||formal||●|
|Checkuser||Contributors with access to a tool "to establish whether two or more accounts are being operated by one individual or group of people"||formal||●|
|Deletionist||Contributors "who are committed to very strict guidelines on what constitutes encyclopedic topics".||formal|
|Developer (system administrators[Note 2])||"People who manage and maintain the Wikimedia Foundation servers."||formal||●|
|Featured articles director||"The [Featured Articles] director determines whether there is consensus or promoting or rejecting [a featured article candidate]. […] The FA Director determines the timing of the process for each nomination."||formal|
|Inclusionist||Contributors "who are committed to the idea that an online encyclopedia need not and must not exclude information".||formal|
|Jimmy Wales, benevolent dictator||
|Open Ticket Request System (OTRS) volunteer||Contributors "who manage the email help-ticket system for requests from the public".||formal|
|Oversight||Contributors with the ability to perform "enhanced deletion […] to protect privacy, remove defamatory material, and sometimes to remove serious copyright violations."||formal||●|
|Registered user||Contributors who have created an account and logged into the site.||formal||●|
|Steward||Contributors who "may grant and revoke any permission to or from any user on any [Wikimedia] wiki".||formal||●|
|Vandal fighter, watchdogs, border patrol||
||formal, emerging||◮[Note 3]|
|All-round contributor||"All-round contributors were engaged in almost all types of actions."||emerging|
|Casual contributor||Contributors who "had less than 4 actions for a given article".||emerging|
|Cleaner, fact checker||emerging|
|Expert, Wikipedian, core community, the Gang of 500, elite user, administrative-oriented member||
|Fact updater||"This group of editors contributes mainly to the template content of articles (e.g. Infoboxes […]). Since Wikipedia covers topics that change over time, a lot of work needs to be done to keep these articles up to date."||emerging|
|Passerby contributor, good Samaritan, novice user, the Anonymous Horde, common user, non-Wikipedian, content-oriented contributor||
||emerging or explicit|
|Starter||Starters "created sentences while seldom engaging in other actions".||emerging|
|Substantive expert, content justifiers||
|Technical editor, wiki gnome||
|Zealot||"True believers in a collective good who contribute for purely intrinsic value beyond rational expectations."||emerging|
|Director||"Key users responsible for oversight of the Wikimedia organization".||explicit||◬|
|Maintainer||Contributors who use a template to "indicate active contributor status toward a given article".||explicit|
|Manually registered user||"New users who had to be manually registered to bypass some restrictions."||explicit||◬|
|New registered user||"Newly registered users."||explicit||◬|
|QA technician||"Users who develop automated tools (i.e. edit filters) to assist quality assurance work."||explicit||▲|
|Quality assurance||"Privileged users responsible patrolling Wikipedia and for ensuring content quality."||explicit||◬|
|Security force||"Highly trusted users who are working to keep malicious users out and combat intentional manipulations of content."||explicit||◬|
|Technical administration||"Privileged users responsible for the administration of the technical aspects (e.g. user accounts, files)."||explicit||◬|
Role paths and life cyclesEdit
- Main article: Research Codex: Contributor life cycle
Several studies have investigated the processes by which contributors socialize into the community of contributor, change roles, and move between the periphery and the core. In their ethnographic study on "Becoming Wikipedian", Bryant et al. notably observed that "in the move from novice to Wikipedian, goals broaden to include growing the community itself and improving the overall quality and character of the site."
Successive levels of participationEdit
Although not specific to Wikipedia, the "Reader-to-Leader" framework (R2L) proposed by Preece and Shneiderman was a "simplified but helpful model of reality" to "understand what motivates technology-related social participation". They argued for four "successive levels of participation": reader, contributor, collaborator, and leader, and based their argument on a review of the literature corresponding to those four roles. They focused their review on motivations corresponding to each stage, in an effort to help practitioners design technologies that facilitate the progression along the framework.
Arazy et al. studied the transition dynamics between access privileges-based roles, seeking to investigate the R2L framework empirically. They notably found that new roles were added to meet the needs of a growing community: "the introduction of additional functions […] was necessary for curating the mounting number of new contributions". They confirmed that "the number of community members decreases as we grow closer to the core", and also studied "transitions from the core back to the community’s periphery." They attributed these "‘downward’ transitions" to "community regeneration, where old leadership makes way for new generations of contributors that step-up to take additional responsibilities" and also to "heated confrontations between community members".
Becoming an administratorEdit
In 2008, Burke & Kraut created a model that described how users were granted administrator status, and compared it to the stated criteria. They suggested that the model could be used to identify users likely to successfully become administrators.
In 2010, Leskovec et al. studied the mechanisms of deliberation in the Request for Adminship (RfA) process. After comparing the achievements (e.g. number of edits) of candidates and voters, they notably argued that "voters are particularly critical of candidates whose level of achievement is comparable to their own". When they studied the dynamics of elections over time, they found that timing effects only had a limited influence on the final outcome, contrasting with herding effects in information cascade models
Roles and content qualityEdit
- Main article: Research Codex: Content quality
One of the reasons researchers have studied roles of contributors on Wikipedia is to investigate their possible relationship to content quality. They have used several ways to measure article quality, such as survivability ("the percentage of a contributor's edit retained in the current version of the article"), external expert assessment, Wikipedia's own assessment process, and machine learning algorithms.
Featured articles processesEdit
Viégas et al. examined that process on the English Wikipedia through the lens of Benkler's commons-based peer production (CBPP), and common-pool resources. They notably highlighted the formal role of the Featured Article Director, and the importance of norms and coordination processes in a process where participation is voluntary:
Several roles in the process are filled by crowds of self-identified individuals. The editors of the articles, the reviewers, and the people who vote […] are volunteers and there is no preset limit on the number who may participate. […] Part of the FA success is likely due to the fact that individuals can easily step in and out of the process at any point. It is a "peer-process": a completely distributed, yet coordinated and formalized, procedure.
Monaci conducted interviews to understand the "organizational and social processes" behind the Italian Wikipedia's counterpart, the Vetrina, also through the lens of Benkler's CBPP systems. Describing the two phases of "utterance" and "relevance/accreditation", she set out to test the hypothesis according to which, "Starting from a quite anarchic phase based on a voluntary mass-participation, [Wikipedia] is supposed to move toward a more complex definition of recognized roles and functions aimed at higher quality standards". She argued that, contrary to Benkler's theory, Vetrina articles owed their quality to community norms, rather than formal roles:
Italian Wikipedia has indeed defined rules and policies in such a way that it can avoid specific roles or functions in charge of managing authoritatively the quality process. […] Quality management is up to the whole community: the selection process finds its principles in regulated editing procedures based on peer collaboration.
However, she recognized that the lack of formal roles did not mean a lack of structure. From a behavioral perspective, some users did participate more than others in specific tasks or on specific topics to improve the quality of Vetrina articles, even if their roles were not formally acknowledged.
Patterns of collaboration leading to qualityEdit
In 2011, Liu & Ram correlated sequences and patterns of collaboration between roles on a set articles, and found that "articles developed using patterns where all-round editors played a dominant role are often of high quality, while patterns where starters and casual contributors dominate are often associated with low quality".
In 2016, Yang et al. analyzed edits from the English Wikipedia to identify roles played by editors and examined how those roles affected the quality of a set of articles. Their results suggested that "the activities of different types of editors are needed at different stages of article development". For example, "as articles increase in quality, the substantive content added by substantive experts is needed less" but "the cleanup activities by Wiki Gnomes become more important".
Roles and community healthEdit
Turnover and replenishmentEdit
In 2011, Welser et al. compared the prevalence of a set of roles in two populations of established and new contributors. They found similar trends between the two groups, and concluded that "potential role players [were] arriving and developing at a rate that [was] more than sufficient to supplement and grow the current population". Builds on . The Research Newsletter reviewer disagreed, and pointed to Strategy:Editor Trends Study.
Distribution of rolesEdit
[FIXME: Summarize the relevant part of Arazy 2015 ] 
Roles and demographicsEdit
- Editor surveys
Avenues of research, gaps in literature, including leads and resources
- Very little about sister projects; 
- Few studies of Wikipedias other than English; although some findings are applicable to other language editions, the specificities of each local community can have significant impact on contributor behavior
- Very little is known about demographics
- Very little is known about community health
Sources to addEdit
Recent primary publications:
- White 1976
- Boorman 1976
- Winship 1988
- Burt 1992
- Callero 1994
- Donath 1999
- Borgatti 1999
- Bettencourt 2001
- Faust 2002
- Skvoretz 2002
- Wenger 2002
- Burt 2004
- Herrmann 2004
- Turner 2005
- Long 2007
- Ransbotham 2011
- Jullien 2012
- Keegan 2012
- Keegan 2012b
- Kane 2014
- "Administrator" is a well-defined social and software position on Wikipedia, but was also used to qualify "administrators and bureaucrats" in Arazy 2014.
- System administrators were "historically […] known as "developers," now an inaccurate use of term" as it is used to refer to "developers of the MediaWiki software".
- Contributors who fight vandalism may revert changes manually through a sequences of actions, or using a tool ("rollback", associated witha software position) that automates those actions.
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It is important to note that there is considerable disagreement among social scientists about the definitions of the related concepts of social position, social status, and social role. […] In social network analysis position refers to a collection of individuals who are similarly embedded in networks of relations, while roles refers to the patterns of relations which obtain between actors or between positions. The notion of position thus refers to a collection of actors who are similar in social activity, ties or interactions, with respect to actors in other positions.
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To illustrate, for some authors the term "role" refers only to the concept of social position, for others it designates the behaviors characteristic of social position members, and for still others it denotes shared expectations held for the behaviors of position members. Such inconsistent uses pose problems for the unwary reader. […] Some writers assume that roles are always tied to functions, whereas others conceive roles as behaviors: that conform to expectations, that are directed towards other in the system, that are volitional, that validate the actor's status, or that project a self-image.
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