To deal with the massive influx of new editors between 2004 and 2007, Wikipedians built automated quality control tools and solidified their rules of governance. In our paper, we observe that these reasonable and effective strategies for maintaining the quality of the encyclopedia have come at the cost of decreased retention of desirable new editors.
In 2006, the English Wikipedia faced an amazing opportunity; the open encyclopedia was growing exponentially both in new content and new contributors. With this success and growth, however, came a problem — anonymous vandalism.
In Wikipedia, content is contributed openly by Internet users, often anonymously. As the English Wikipedia gained in popularity, the potential for malicious activity grew, as well. Many feared that the vandals could overwhelm the good-faith editors tasked with keeping them at bay.
In response, Wikipedians constructed a complex immune system to fight vandalism, incorporating several strategies, including:
- Robots to automatically catch egregious cases.
- Semi-automated systems that combined human judgment with computational efficiency.
- Interface improvements to streamline the process of reverting malicious edits.
In early 2007, the English Wikipedia’s exponential growth in active editors changed directions and entered a steady decline. In this paper, we show that this decline was primarily due to a substantial drop in the retention of new, good-faith editors. Since 2007, desirable newcomers are more likely to have their work rejected, often through semi-autonomous vandal fighting tools (like Huggle). Furthermore, new users are being pushed out of policy articulation. During Wikipedia’s exponential growth period, Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines of behavior were effectively locked down against changes by new editors, and newcomers today struggle to find out where to ask for help.
For more, see our full paper, The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s reaction to sudden popularity is causing its decline.
Aaron Halfaker, University of Minnesota
Stuart Geiger, University of California, Berkeley
Jonathan Morgan, University of Washington
John Riedl, University of Minnesota