The challenge of Wikipedia

The last few years have seen a substantial growth in user-generated online content delivered through collaborative internet outlets such as YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia is a prominent example of a collaborative user-generated content outlet. It is a free, open content online encyclopedia created through the collaborative effort of a community of users known as ‘Wikipedians . Anyone registered on the site can create an article for publication but registration is not required to edit articles. Thus, the success of Wikipedia is dependent on the contributors. Currently, Wikipedia is in trouble. The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking. The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, stated that Wikipedia needs to attract a new crowd to make progress. The biggest issue of Wikipedia is the editor diversity and he hopes to grow the number of editors in topics that need work.

According to the article of Zhang and Zhu (2011), there is a positive relationship between group size and contributors’ contribution levels. The cause is attributed to social effects: contributors receive social benefits from their contributions, and the shrinking group size reduces social benefits. But what could Wikipedia do to grow the number of Wikipedians? To answer this question it is useful to understand what motivates content contributors, and identify which motivations are associated with high or low levels of contribution. In the article ‘What motivates Wikipedians?’ the following motivations are tested:

  • Altruism and humanitarian concerns
  • Responding to requests by friends or attempting to engage in an activity viewed favorably by important others
  • Chances to learn new things
  • Preparing for a new career or signaling knowledge to potential employers
  • Addressing personal problems, such as guilt at being more fortunate than others
  • Ego needs and public exhibition of knowledge
  • Ideological concerns, such as belief that information should be free
  • Fun

They state that user-generated content outlets who seek to recruit and retain volunteering content contributors, need to focus their marketing, recruitment and retention efforts on those motivations that are both high in relative importance and where strong correlation exists between the level of motivation and the level of contribution. Their findings suggest that this is the case for the following motivations: Fun, ego needs and public exhibition of knowledge and addressing personal problems.
Next to these findings, Wikipedia also could examine motivations that are not tested yet. For example, social issues where someone feels he or she benefits from other people having the correct facts (e.g. public health problems and political controversies) and the motivation that people actually have something to say. What do you think Wikipedia could do to increase the number of Wikipedians?


Nov, O. (2007). What motivates wikipedians?. Communications of the ACM, 50(11), pp.60–64.

Zhang, X. and Zhu, F. (2011). Group size and incentives to contribute: A natural experiment at Chinese Wikipedia. The American economic review, 101(4), pp.1601–1615.





Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: