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Scholarly research of Wikipedia is useful for understanding the encyclopedia's content, readers, editors, history, current state, and future. These results also yield important knowledge applicable to other open content communities. In addition to driving scholarly knowledge of such systems, this work can also give results that can improve Wikipedia itself. Much valuable research cannot be done without Wikipedia community members who volunteer to participate in studies.
Information for editors
This section gives a brief overview of who researchers are and why they are interested in studying Wikipedia and its editors.
Who are researchers
There are a wide variety of backgrounds from which people approach studying Wikipedia.
- Academics: the students, professors, and staff of colleges and universities
- Industry researchers: the staff of private companies
- Independents: individuals without an affiliation with an interest in studying Wikipedia
They are here to perform scientific analysis of Wikipedia and its users and, most often, intend to publish the results of their work in academic publications.
What do they do
In the past, research in Wikipedia has built an understanding of how Wikipedia works, how editors interact with each other, what work is discarded and why, how admins are chosen, and how to detect vandalism. This research serves to increase understanding in how Wikipedia works and to improve its functioning. Researchers approach understanding Wikipedia in a few different ways.
- Field experiment: Determines the limitations and strengths of Wikipedia's functionality or tests new functionality for editing, collaborating, navigating, etc., by developing and distributing modifications to Wikipedia's functionality. Field trials will usually need to recruit users under this policy.
- Surveys and interviews: Learns various aspects of editors and editing (e.g. demographics, motivations, activities) using pre-written forms or back-and-forth conversations. Requests for participation can be either general (i.e. random), or targeted to specific editors. Requests for participation require sending unsolicited messages, so surveys and interviews frequently require recruitment under this policy.
- Participant observation: Gains a close familiarity with the editing community by joining Wikipedia and doing the same work that Wikipedians do on a regular basis. They often casually converse with editors as a part of the collaborative editing process. Participant observers who do not send unsolicited requests do not usually fall under the SRAG's guidelines. However, they are recommended to disclose themselves as researchers and consult with the SRAG before starting their research project. In addition, participant observers who decide to interview or survey users need to recruit users under this policy.
- Offline analysis: Analyzes database snapshots of publicly available information to examine the history of encyclopedia construction. Offline analyses will seldom need to recruit users under this policy.
Why are they here
Wikipedia is an interesting medium for scientific research. It is one of the most visited websites on the internet, serving as an information resource to millions of users every day. Scientists find it remarkable that an encyclopedia in which articles can be edited by anyone anonymously, and in which damage can only be repaired after it occurs, has quality comparable to traditional encyclopedias. They want to understand how the social dynamic of Wikipedia works. Further, Wikipedia is one of the few examples of millions of people working together on a single project. The Wikimedia Foundation also supports the work of researchers by maintaining two public mailing lists, one devoted to scholarly research and one for the committee, of Wikimedia projects and releasing periodic database snapshots for analysis.
Advice for researchers
Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point, even if that point is in the name of research. Vandalism for any reason is not tolerated, and is a very fast way to generate hostilities between the Wikipedia community and the research community.
- Wikipedia:WikiProject Research
- Wikipedia:Researching Wikipedia
- Wikipedia:Ethically researching Wikipedia
- Wikipedia:Academic studies of Wikipedia
- meta:Research Committee
- Wikimedia Research Newsletter, monthly overview of recent research about Wikipedia (also published in The Signpost)
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