Improving socialization of newcomers in WikiProjects

We are professors at Carnegie Mellon University and would like to discuss some collaborative research to improve how to integrate newcomers into WikiProjects. Our recent research has examined what makes groups of editors more or less successful in Wikipedia. Broadly, we have found that the nature of the work editors are involved in and the tactics used to coordinate and socialize them have measurable and lasting effects on their contributions and commitment (see recent references below.) For example, our findings reveal two important aspects of Wikipedians' behavior in WikiProjects:

  1. Joining a WikiProject seems to strongly influence Wikipedians' behavior. After joining a project, editors shift their efforts towards work that is needed by the project. They increase their editing of project's articles by over fifty percent and more than double their discussion activity and vandalism reverting.
  2. Early interactions that newcomers to WikiProjects have with existing project members influence how much work they do and how long they remain active. Getting personalized welcomes, offers of assistance or constructive criticism of their early edits are associated with increased contribution, while impersonal methods such as standardized greeting templates or pointers to general to-do lists are associated with decreased contribution.

If these conclusions are true they should provide useful guidance about how to work with volunteers in Wikipedia to make their contributions more effective. However, so far our research been correlational, examining what historically has happened in WikiProjects. As the next step of our research, we are interested to conduct interventions aimed at improving retention and commitment to WikiProjects. By doing these interventions in a controlled, experimental way we also aim to contribute to scientific theories of how volunteer organizations like Wikipedia succeed.

The research has two parts. The first part focuses on evaluating the benefits of group membership on member contribution. We plan to identify non-project members who have been editing articles related to different projects and randomly invite a subset of them to join the related WikiProject using invitation messages designed to increase group attachment. This will benefit WikiProjects in attracting, retaining, and motivating new members, and will benefit science through a better understanding of how to increase group attachment and contribution in online communities.

The second phase of the project would study the effect of different socialization methods on newcomers who join the WikiProjects. One approach is to encourage newcomers to work on tasks that would increase their knowledge about the topics the project covers or people who work in the project. The tasks should increase newcomers' contribution and commitment by making them more familiar with the core mission of a project, how work is done in the project and whom they can turn to for help. An example of such introductory tasks could be a scavenger hunt in which the newcomers will be asked to find valuable information or problems on pages related to the project. This will benefit WikiProjects in helping to grow newcomers into active and effective group members, and will benefit science through a better understanding of the effectiveness of different socialization methods.

We believe that our research can increase the vitality of WikiProjects, helping them attract and retain more committed and motivated members who are knowledgeable and able to contribute to the project.

 

Thank you,

Robert Kraut - Herbert A. Simon Professor of Human-Computer Interaction (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~kraut/)

Aniket Kittur - Assistant Professor, Human Computer Interaction (http://kittur.org/)

Related publications

Kittur, A., Pendleton, B., & Kraut, R. (2009). Herding the Cats: The Influence of Groups in Coordinating Peer Production WikiSym '09: Proceeding of the 5th International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration. New York: ACM Press..

Choi, BR, Alexander, K., Kraut, R. & Levine, J. (2010). Socialization Tactics in Wikipedia and their Effects. To appear in CSCW'10: Proceeding of 2010 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work.

Kittur, A., & Kraut, R. E. (2009). Coordination in Collective Intelligence: The Role of Team Structure and Task Interdependence CHI 2009: Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. NY: ACM Press.