Monday, 7 April 2008

Theories of participation in Wikis

I read two articles last week which put forward some useful theories about what makes people contribute to Wikipedia. They were grounded in theories of participation which were also quite interesting.

The first article is Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of Participation in a Collaborative Online Encyclopedia by Bryant, Forte and Bruckman. It cites the theoretical description by Lave and Wenger called 'Legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

Bryant et al. say: 'According to LPP, newcomers become members of a community initially by participating in peripheral yet productive tasks that contribute to the overall goal of the community.' In Wikipedia this means people tend to start off making really small edits, correcting typos etc.

Wenger identified three characteristics of communities of practice which Bryant et al. feel are present in Wikipedians: 'community members are mutually engaged, they actively negotiate the nature of the encyclopedia-building enterprise, and they have collected a repertoire of shared, negotiable resources including the Wikipedia software and content itself.'

LPP also suggests that 'If newcomers can directly observe the practices of experts, they understand the broader context into which their own efforts fit.'

As Wikipedians grow in confidence and experience, their participation also grows. Bryant et al.'s findings demonstrate that 'For ... "Wikipedians"[i.e. the confident, experienced users], the Wikipedia as a whole becomes more important than any single article or set of articles....their motivation seems to become rooted in a concern for the quality of the Wikipedia itself....Many Wikipedians perceive their work as contributing to a greater good, offering knowledge to the world at large. When asked why they contribute to the Wikipedia, many Wikipedians recognized the project's overarching goals, the appeal of community, and perceived contributions to society.'

'Wikipedians described feelings of personal responsibility for the quality of their contributions to the site and its contents.'

The second article is by Schroer & Hertel and is called 'Voluntary Engagement in an Open Web-based Encyclopedia: Wikipedians, and Why They Do It'. They cite Klandermans' model (1997, 2003) on social movements: 'ACcording to this model, the motivation to participate in a social movement depends on subjective expectancy and importance of several motives, which can be categorized into three classes, as well as identification processes: Elements of the first class, social motives, refer to expected reaction of relevant others, such as friends, family, or colleagues'.

THey also note that 'interest and "having fun" during an activity are important elements of intrinsic motivation.'

Another interesting bit:
'Volunteers are generally more satisfied if their engagement meets important needs (Clary et al., 1998; Houlse, Sagarin & Kaplan, 2005)'

Some of the motives cited by the people they interviewed for contributing:

  • 'I like working with text'
  • 'I enjoy writing'
  • 'power to share knowledge'
  • 'cover topics that are omitted in other encyclopedias'
  • 'create a heritage for our children'
  • 'timeless project to collect knowledge'
  • 'compensation for unrealized career aspirations'
This is only a brief overview of these articles but I think it's useful to make a note of them because it might give me a better idea of what to play on when trying to get people onto the BPMA Wiki.

I think the lessons to learn from them are the importance of community, the feeling of personal pride in what they have created, the desire to share knowledge and the fact that people are likely to start off small and gradually do bigger edits as they gain confidence.

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Blogger Kobie said...

I contribute to FluWiki. One idea that has interested me is "Positive grafittie" People like to leave their mark, even if it is anonymous. I am not sure how many go back to see what they wrote.

We are also social creatures. This is part of talk radio, MySpace and Craigs list. Some post to be heard or to exchange ideas even if it is just for the sake of exchanging ideas.

Thank for the article - yes I found it on Flu wiki.

"Eveything I know never changed my mind as much as the one thing I did not" - kobie

24 April 2008 at 18:59  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

Thanks Kobie, it's interesting isn't it, that people might just post something and never go back? I've had some really interesting contributions on the BPMA Wiki Wartime Letters page from complete newbies on our site, we'll have to see whether any of them come back, I hope they do!

There's quite a lot been written on the idea of anonymity. The Building a community forum reckons that people don't like anonymity, which is why Muppet Wiki insists that people create a login.

25 April 2008 at 09:04  

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