Expert participation on Wikipedia: barriers and opportunities

Taraborelli, Dario; Mietchen, Daniel; Alevizou, Panagiota and Gill, Alastair (2011). Expert participation on Wikipedia: barriers and opportunities. In: Wikimania 2011, 4-6 Aug 2011, Haifa, Israel.



On the occasion of Wikipedia's 10th anniversary, the Chronicle wrote that, nowadays, the project does not represent "the bottom layer of authority, nor the top, but in fact the highest layer without formal vetting" and, as such, it can serve as "an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web". An increasing number of university students use Wikipedia for "pre-research", as part of their course assignments or research projects. Yet many among academics, scientists and experts turn their noses up at the thought of contributing to Wikipedia, despite a growing number of calls from the expert community to join the project. The Association for Psychological Science launched an initiative to get the scientific psychology community involved in improving the coverage and quality of articles in their field; biomedical experts recently called upon their peers to help make public health information in Wikipedia rigorous and complete; historians have recently started to contribute references to Wikipedia in an effort to make their scholarly work more easily accessible to a broad readership; chemists are curating Wikipedia to include structured metadata in articles on chemical compounds. The Wikimedia Foundation itself is exploring strategies to engage with the expert community and with higher education at large, as part of initiatives such as USPP or the expert review proposal.

These calls for participation, however, remain sporadic and most experts-- despite goodwill to contribute--still perceive major barriers to participation, which typically include issues of a technical, social and cultural nature, from the lack of incentives from the perspective of a professional career, to the poor recognition of one’s expertise within Wikipedia to issues of social interaction. In combination with the apparent anomaly of collaborative--and often anonymous--authorship and the resulting fluidity of Wikipedia articles, these factors create an environment that significantly differs from the ones experts are accustomed to.

There has been so far only anecdotal evidence on what keeps experts (defined in the broadest possible sense to include academics, but also expert professionals in industry and in the public sector, as well as research students) from contributing to Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Research Committee ran a survey on expert participation between February and April 2011 with over 3K respondents to try and turn anecdotes about expert participation into data. The aim of this talk is to present the results of the survey and tackle questions such as: the different perception of participation in Wikipedia across academic fields; the effects of expertise, gender, discipline, wiki literacy on participation; the gap between shared attitudes and individual drivers of participation; the relation between participation in Wikipedia and attitudes towards open access and open science.

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