Research:Studying Wikimedia Commons

01:51, 30 April 2020 (UTC)
Yihan Yu
David W. McDonald
Duration:  2020-April – ??
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This page documents a proposed research project.
Information may be incomplete and may change before the project starts.

Introduction and BackgroundEdit

Wikimedia Commons (or Commons) has been an important part of Wikimedia Foundation’s (WMF) projects since its launch in 2004. It serves as a free online repository for WMF projects to store and manage diverse multimedia content. Commons, while a separate project, both benefits and contributes to other WMF projects. A majority of prior research has focused on Wikipedia, its organization, articles, editors, readers, and policies. Few studies have focused on the ways Commons benefits and supports activities in other WMF projects. Commons is a community with its own goals, participants and organization, so it is a worthy candidate for focused research rather than simply an adjunct of Wikipedia.

Research Questions & ScopeEdit

We are broadly interested in understanding the intersection between Wikimedia Commons and the needs and goals of other Wikimedia projects. We have four specific questions that we hope to answer through this research:

  1. What are the goals of the Commons?
  2. What are the goals of Commons curators (editors), and how do they participate to improve Commons?
  3. How do the goals of Commons curators (editors) align with the needs and goals of other Wikimedia projects?
  4. How do editors of other Wikimedia projects leverage the content of Commons to improve the quality of their projects?


We recognize that people come to Commons for a variety of reasons, at this time, we want to study the following two groups:

Commons CuratorsEdit

Curators are editors who work extensively on Commons to upload, edit and organize contents. In this study, we will invite curators to talk about their experience with Commons. We plan to recruit 15-25 Commons curators for this study.

Wikipedia EditorsEdit

We want to interview editors who use multimedia content from Commons to illustrate their projects. We are interested in their needs for Commons, and how Commons can be improved to better support their work. We plan to recruit 15-25 Wikipedia editors for this study.

Participant IncentiveEdit

Participation in our study is voluntary. However, in recognition of the participant's time we will make a donation to a 'like minded' organization. Specifically, for each participant who completes an interview with us, we will acknowledge the contribution of their time, effort, and expertise to our research project with a donation of $15 to one of three charitable organizations. Participants completing an interview can choose whether a contribution will be made to: Wikimedia Foundation, or Creative Commons, or Internet Archive. If not otherwise specified the default choice will be Wikimedia Foundation.

Recruiting Activity
Editors Contacted 235
Editors Replied 47
Editors Interviewed 32

Donation Choices
Organization Selection Total
Wikimedia Foundation 15 $225
Creative Commons 5 $75
Internet Archive 12 $180


This is qualitative research.

Research EthicsEdit

This work has been reviewed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of Washington. In late February 2020, the University of Washington Human Subjects Division (HSD) determined that this study is human subjects research and that it qualifies for exempt status. This exempt determination is valid for the duration of the study.

Under the IRB proposal we requested the ability to gain verbal consent from the interview participants. We will verbally inform individuals of the basics of the study, similar to the information provided in this research project description, and ask them whether they agree to participate, prior to asking any of our interview questions. During the interview individuals may decline to answer questions, or they can stop their participation and ask to have the interview deleted.

It is our practice to make a good faith effort to maintain the confidentiality of the interviews. We will not tell outsiders which individuals were part of this research. We will do our best to anonymize the data. However, it is important for participants to know that Wikipedians are skilled at research and can sometimes figure out who and what is being described, even though a best effort has been made to anonymize the data. Wikipedia and Commons are public platforms where all edits are visible which makes a promise of anonymity very difficult to ensure. We feel we cannot make that promise. But we do promise to make our best effort.


We will recruit participants through two channels, community board announcement, and individual, direct email invite. The community board announcement will target curators who have contributed to Commons and editors who have used multimedia content from Commons to illustrate at least one Wikipedia article in the last 24 months. After potential participants contact us to express their interest, we will screen their eligibility by examining their Wikipedia User Page, User Talk Page, and Wikipedia Edit History. We will identify individuals who we will contact directly by reviewing their publicly available edit history. We will review editors and curators editing history to make sure the participant meets our contribution threshold prior to individual contact. A member of our study team will send a personalized, direct email invite to editors who have inserted a picture from Commons to illustrate an article.

Data CollectionEdit

We plan to conduct semi-structured interviews with eligible Commons curators and Wikipedia editors who are 18 years old or older. We hope to record and transcribe the interviews for further analysis.

Impact of the studyEdit

The primary impacts are a better understanding of Commons and the wikiwork that is performed by Commons curators (editors). We will also gain a better understanding of the relationship between Commons and other WMF projects (focused through the lens of EN Wikipedia).

There are possible indirect impacts through an understanding of potential improvements to tools and processes that would allow editors from other WMF projects to more effectively leverage the content in Commons.