Research:Wikipedia Progression of Participation

This page documents a research project in progress.
Information may be incomplete and change as the project progresses.
Please contact the project lead before formally citing or reusing results from this page.

Project Summary


Our project focuses on understanding how users move from their first experiences with Wikipedia towards richer forms of participation. Part of the problem with understanding how individuals become active Wikipedians is that contribution is often reduced to just two categories: those who participate and those who do not. However, this simple dichotomy is inadequate because it ignores key issues such as: how do users participate (e.g. what types of Wiki-work do they do), why do they participate, and what participation path(s) did they take over time?

We are inspired by earlier work such as Becoming Wikipedian and Wikipedians are Born, Not Made. However, we take a fundamentally different methodological approach. Our project will:

  1. Recruit new Wikipedia participants within the first few weeks after they create an account and make their first edits.
  2. Collect survey responses from interested participants at two points: just after they have begun participating on Wikipedia and four months later. Our survey will collect information about prior history with Wikipedia, attitudes and perceptions of Wikipedia, motivation, and other social and psychological characteristics.
  3. With participants’ consent, analyze participants edit histories over the course of these four months. In addition to algorithmic analyses on the text of edits and other available metadata, we will also qualitatively code edits according to a typology of different types of Wiki work.

Recruitment Details


In order to recruit participants for our study, we must contact Wikipedians. We are committed to doing so in a responsible and unobtrusive matter. Our recruitment practices will adhere to the following rules:

  • the population from which we draw our sample is the unique set of users who appear in Special:Contributions with filter "Newbie"
  • We will contact only those users who are emailable through the Wikipedia API. We will send one and only one message notifying potential participants of our study and how to participate. If a user chooses not to respond we will not contact him/her again.
  • We will compensate participants for their time and effort. Participants can choose either to receive a gift card to or to donate their compensation to one of several pre-selected non-profit groups.
  • Once participants have chosen to participate in our study we will need to contact them again as the study progresses. Subsequent requests and reminders will be kept to an absolute minimum.
  • Participants can choose to stop participating in the study at any time, and they will not receive any additional messages from us.
  • We will, of course, never share email addresses, user names, or any other personally identifying information with any other parties for any reason whatsoever.

Benefits for Wikipedia


In addition to advancing our knowledge about Wikipedia and online participation in general, our study could have several direct benefits for the Wikipedia community:

  1. Improve how-to guides and tutorials, and thus help increase long-term participation.
  2. Better understand the characteristics of Wikipedians who do specific types of work.
  3. Highlight the diversity and range of activity that Wikipedians do that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  4. Combine attitudes and dispositions from users with an understanding of behaviors over time to get a much deeper picture of Wikipedian activities.

Sharing our Findings


We are interested in sharing our findings with the Wikipedia community. We are currently planning to:

  • Publish/share our findings in venues such as CHI, CSCW, WikiSym, or Wikimania
  • Create an easy to read executive summary of our findings, share it via mailing lists and link it to our project page.
  • Create a video summary of our project and our findings with everyday Wikipedeans in mind.
  • Brief members of the Wikimedia foundation on our results.

Wikipedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection


Our first goal is to abide by Wikipedia’s policies on research and recruitment and to conduct our research project in an ethical, respectful, and non-disruptive manner. To accomplish this goal we have conducted informal consultations with members of the Wikimedia Foundation, especially with regards to shared research questions of interest and recruitment practices. We are also in the process of soliciting feedback from Wikipedia’s newly-formed research committee as well as from the broader research community through the wiki-research-l list. Once we have collected feedback and addressed potential concerns, we will ensure that our recruitment and data collection practice abide by the guidelines of the BAG.

In addition to following these Wikipedia-specific processes, our research has also undergone thorough review and has been approved by the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) at UC Berkeley. CPHS enforces ethical standards and Federal laws regarding the protection of participants in research. CPHS review ensures that our research protocol and methods will conform to strict standards of informed consent and openness of data collection methods. As a part of the CPHS approval process we are required to:

  • Provide clear recruitment methods using clear documentation about our affiliation, purpose, and research goals to all potential participants.
  • Provide documentation on our exact data collection methods.
  • Ensure that no personally identifiable information is ever made available.
  • Describe and address any risks associated with participation in this study to our study participants.

Contact Us


We welcome your feedback. Please contribute to our Discussion page or feel free to contact us directly via email at