Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-08-01/Recent research

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Recent research

A century of rulemaking on Wikipedia analyzed

A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

Abstract art of "Wikipedia research"

"Rules and Rule-Making in the Five Largest Wikipedias"

This paper[1] presented recently at the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2022) analyzes 780 community rule pages (including the English Wikipedia's policies and guidelines) on the five Wikipedias with the largest active editor numbers: English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. Examining "almost 100 years of data aggregated across [these] five communities" (i.e. the revision histories of these rule pages and their associated talk pages, from each project's founding until 2020), the authors find that these

... follow similar patterns in rule-related editing over twenty years, having a rapid initial surge in activity followed by stabilization and a shift towards discussing rules rather than editing them. However, the five Wikipedias also follow distinct trajectories. Further, the language editions’ rules overlap less over time, producing increasingly differentiated rule sets even as most activity focuses on widely-shared rules.

In a literature review, the authors (Sohyeon Hwang and Aaron Shaw from Northwestern University, both members of the Community Data Science Collective) note contrasting earlier research results that indicated either that "the self-governing efforts of communities will be similar because they are shaped by shared sociotechnical characteristics" (as earlier research coauthored by Shaw had found in case of some non-Wikipedia wikis, see our review: "Iron Law of Oligarchy" (1911) confirmed on Wikia wikis), or instead "different due to the sheer diversity of communities’ membership, goals, or organizational culture."

Regarding English Wikipedia, the paper extends an earlier analysis by Keegan and Fiesler (see our earlier note: English Wikipedia still engaged in rule-making, but with "strong shift toward deliberation").

The authors summarize their main contributions as follows:

(1) we provide evidence that large, well-established Wikipedia language editions follow similar patterns of rule creation and organizational formalization, replicating and extending prior work that focused predominately on English Wikipedia; (2) we show that communities with the same goals, technical infrastructures, and similar organizational trajectories develop substantial and sustainable institutional variations; and (3) we highlight the importance of broad, widely-shared rules created early on in communities’ histories.

In their first research question, they examine "patterns of rule-making over time". First, they find that

"Rule creation follows similar, but distinct patterns across the wikis in our sample. [...] In general, most rules are created early. For all language editions, years 2–6 see the most rule page creation. Japanese Wikipedia is an exception, with 25% of its rules created in its first year (year 0) [... A closer analysis of these year-0 rules] suggests that Japanese Wikipedia boot strapped its core rules from the older English Wikipedia, rather than pursuing a divergent rule-making approach."

Regarding the edits to existing rules, "The median number of rule-related revisions each year per rule [Figure 2b] rises initially, peaks around year 5, and then declines in all language editions." A plot of the ratio of revisions on rule pages vs. (rule) talk pages (Figure 2c) shows a general downwards trend on all five Wikipedias, indicating that as the projects grew and matured, more discussion was needed to change rules. It indicates that English and German have reached the lowest ratios (but also having remained mostly flat since around 2012), while French, Japanese and (especially) Spanish retain higher ratios.

The authors note that their findings on "rule-related stabilization alongside formalization of self-governance" are consistent with earlier research on (mainly) English Wikipedia that had characterized these such patterns as "“diminishing flexibility to change [rules]” (Keegan and Fiesler 2017), “policy calcification” (Halfaker et al. 2013), and “entrenchment” (Halfaker et al. 2013; TeBlunthuis, Shaw, and Hill 2018)". As these wording choices indicate, these trends have generally been framed as undesirable by various researchers, although a theoretical justification for this is lacking - after all, producing rules and maximizing their change rate is generally not a primary goal of online communities. And while a community with higher hurdles on making and changing rules may be less appealing for contributors who enjoy engaging in these activities, the vast majority of community members who merely follow these rules might prefer stability.

The paper's second research question examines "How do the sets of rules become more or less similar over time" across the five different Wikipedias. The authors rely on interlanguage links to relate corresponding rules, finding that

"About 28% of all rule pages are shared across all five language editions. [...] the majority of rules in all five wikis are shared and connected by ILLs, but the rule sets increasingly contain rules that are unique or shared with just one other language edition. Moreover, the proportion of rules connected by ILLs in each wiki has stabilized [...] the presence of community-specific rules is more obvious in the two larger language editions, English and German. Notably, we find that community-specific rules are not the focus of rule-related revision activity in any community, which instead goes towards rules shared across all five language editions."

"Wikipedia: a self-organizing bureaucracy", in "an erratic and, above all, contested process"

In this paper,[2] from Information, Communication & Society, three Netherlands-based sociologists present a historical analysis of bureaucratization and power concentration vs. power diffusion in Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. It covers the timespan from 1999 (when Nupedia was launched, two years before Wikipedia's founding) until 2017. The analysis is "based on 118 conversations and interviews" with "Wikipedians and board and staff members of both the WMF and local WMF chapters [in particular Wikimedia Nederland] who have played an influential role in Wikipedia’s evolution" and other community members, "as well as extensive archival research" and a literature review. On the theory side, the paper draws from Robert Michels and Max Weber "to study mechanisms pushing towards or away from power concentration and bureaucratization." Overall,

"In line with Weber, we identify a process of progressive bureaucratization. This does not only result from the pursuit of organizational manageability, but from a quest for democratic equality and minimization of domination as well. We introduce the concept of self-organizing bureaucratization to highlight how bureaucratization is the unintended and emergent outcome of efforts to increase democratic accountability."

The authors conclude that "an essential amendment to Michels’s and Weber’s theories is that these processes are not unilinear or mechanical. Our research rather shows an erratic and, above all, contested process."


Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. Contributions, whether reviewing or summarizing newly published research, are always welcome.

"Assessing the impact of translation guidelines in Wikipedia: A praxeological approach to the study of documented standards across four language communities"

From the abstract:[3]

"[...] this paper adopts a praxeological approach to translation by analysing documented standards across four Wikipedia language communities and the extent to which 16 experienced translators have assimilated them. The findings suggest that Wikipedia guidelines on translation have slight but tangible differences across the communities under investigation. Moreover, the interview data showed a tendency among participants to attach more importance to cross-wiki editing policies than to any local translation guidelines."

"Edit volume in the English Wikipedia increased during COVID-19 mobility restrictions" (figure from the paper)

"Volunteer contributions to Wikipedia increased during COVID-19 mobility restrictions"

From the abstract:[4]

"When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and mobility restrictions ensued across the globe, it was unclear whether contributions to Wikipedia would decrease in the face of the pandemic, or whether volunteers would withstand the added stress and increase their contributions to accommodate the growing readership uncovered in recent studies. We analyze 223 million edits contributed from 2018 to 2020 across twelve Wikipedia language editions and find that Wikipedia’s global volunteer community responded resiliently to the pandemic, substantially increasing both productivity and the number of newcomers who joined the community. For example, contributions to the English Wikipedia increased by over 20% compared to the expectation derived from pre-pandemic data."

Intercultural survey on what motivates Wikipedia editors

From the English abstract:[5]

"Wikipedians [...] consolidate personal resources to manage comprehensive aggregation of free knowledge. [...] the question of the driving forces of this prosocial behaviour is still open. [...] we conducted a content analysis of a transnational survey. The recipients were 65 authors of multilingual Wikipedia segments (83% males and 17% females) with average experience of 9.9 years compilation of encyclopedic articles.

Results. [... In] most cases Wikipedians find a number of personal significant reasons for participating in the Wikipedia, the reasons resonating with their inner essence.

Conclusion. The internal value orientations of Wikipedians include: self-development (self-improvement, self-assertion, self-realization); reciprocal (mutual) altruism; a tendency to high quality and systematization of knowledge; a pleasure of creation; autonomy; recreation (hobby, entertainment); meaningfulness; preservation of personal heritage. The external value orientations include: preservation and development of the cultural heritage / language segment; promotion and popularization of Wikipedia (its ideology and principles); low transaction costs and convenience (attractiveness) of the system; affiliation; social identity; improvement peace («Weltverbesserungs Antrieb»); building bridges between cultures and languages."


  1. ^ Hwang, Sohyeon; Shaw, Aaron (2022-05-31). "Rules and Rule-Making in the Five Largest Wikipedias". Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. 16: 347–357. ISSN 2334-0770.
  2. ^ Rijshouwer, Emiel; Uitermark, Justus; de Koster, Willem (2021-10-28). "Wikipedia: a self-organizing bureaucracy". Information, Communication & Society: 1–18. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2021.1994633. ISSN 1369-118X. S2CID 240255412.
  3. ^ Góngora-Goloubintseff, José Gustavo (2022-02-24). "Assessing the impact of translation guidelines in Wikipedia: A praxeological approach to the study of documented standards across four language communities". Translation Spaces. doi:10.1075/ts.21028.gon. S2CID 247120313. Closed access icon manuscript draft
  4. ^ Ruprechter, Thorsten; Horta Ribeiro, Manoel; Santos, Tiago; Lemmerich, Florian; Strohmaier, Markus; West, Robert; Helic, Denis (2021-11-02). "Volunteer contributions to Wikipedia increased during COVID-19 mobility restrictions". Scientific Reports. 11 (1): 21505. arXiv:2102.10090. Bibcode:2021NatSR..1121505R. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-00789-3. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 8563865. PMID 34728670.
  5. ^ E.A., Bryzgalin (2020). "Intercultural analysis of value orientations of Wikipedia authors" (PDF). National Psychological Journal. 13 (1): 3–17. doi:10.11621/npj.2020.0101. ISSN 2079-6617. S2CID 219451953. (in Russian, with English abstract and tables)