Research:Motivations to Contribute to Wikipedia

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This page documents a completed research project.

Key Personnel[edit]

Audrey Abeyta

Project Summary[edit]

I am an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and am participating in a senior honors thesis program. In June, I will graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and will begin a joint M.A./Ph.D. program in the fall. Broadly, I am interested in the intersection between communication and technology; specifically, I am interested in online collective action and the positive social consequences of Internet use.

The rapid expansion of the Internet in recent decades has facilitated the creation of open-source and peer-produced projects. While many people benefit from these projects, research has shown that a relatively small number of individuals fuel the projects’ development and maintenance. For instance, Tapscott & Williams (2006) note that a mere 2.5% of Wikipedia users contribute 80% of the encyclopedia’s content. Given these findings, what motivates contributors to devote their time, effort, and energy to these projects? Extant literature on this topic does not provide conclusive findings; thus, through this study, I hope to gain a better understanding of Wikipedians’ motivations to contribute. Willing participants will complete an online questionnaire regarding their motivations to contribute to Wikipedia.

The results of this research project will provide a more thorough understanding of why people contribute to Wikipedia, which could have important implications for other open-source, peer-produced projects.


For this study, I hope to survey at least 250 willing Wikipedians regarding their contribution habits and motivations. My questionnaire is anonymous and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. To disseminate my questionnaire to potential participants, I will send a description of the study and a link to the questionnaire to the members of Wikipedia's research mailing list. I will also request the Research Committee's support in recruiting subjects.


Once the study is complete, I will share the results with the Wikipedia community. Additionally, the results will be presented at the UC Santa Barbara Undergraduate Research Colloquium. I may also submit the project for inclusion in various conferences, like the Computer-Supported, Cooperative Work 2013 conference, and academic journals.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection[edit]

Subjects’ participation in this study poses no physical or psychological risks; furthermore, subjects’ responses are not of a sensitive nature and will be collected anonymously. This project has been approved by the Human Subjects Committee at UC Santa Barbara.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community[edit]

The results from this research will lead to a greater understanding of users' motivations to contribute to open-source or peer-produced projects. This area of research is lacking, which is unfortunate given the increasingly technological nature of our society. With a better understanding of users' motivations, barriers to participation can be addressed, leading to an increased number of volunteers and a more robust, intellectual society.

Time Line[edit]

The timeline for this study is as follows:

October 2011 - December 2011: review literature and compose study's literature review

January 2012 - February 2012: construct questionnaire and receive IRB approval

March 2012: pilot test questionnaire and disseminate it to potential participants

April 2012: analyze survey results

May 2012 - June 2012: compose thesis and present findings at UC Santa Barbara Undergraduate Research Colloquium

June 2012 - August 2012: submit thesis for journal publication


This project is supported by an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities grant from the University of California.


(1) Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., Ridge, R. D., Copeland, J., Stukas, A. A., Haugen , J., & Miene, P. (1998). Understanding and assessing the motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(6), 1516-1530.

(2) Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions.Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. doi: 10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

(3) Hars, A., & Ou, S. (2001). Working for free? Motivations of participating in open source projects. In Proceedings of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. (pp. 1-9).

(4) Kuznetsov, S. (2006). Motivations of contributors to Wikipedia. Computers & Society, 36 (2), 1 - 7.

(5) Nov, O. (2007). What motivates Wikipedians? Communications of the ACM, 50 (11), 60 – 64.

(6) Schroer, J., & Hertel, G. (2009). Voluntary engagement in an open web-based encyclopedia: Wikipedians and why they do it. Media Psychology, 12 (1), 96 – 120.

(7) Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. D. (2006). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. Portfolio (Hardcover). Wikipedia: About. (2011, December 6). Retrieved December 6, 2011 from Wikipedia:

(8) Yang, H., & Lai, C. (2010). Motivations of Wikipedia content contributors. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 1377 – 1383.

(9) Zhang, X. M., & Zhu, F. (2006). "Intrinsic motivation of open content contributions: The case of wikipedia.” Workshop on Information Systems and Economics (WISE). Chicago. December 2006.

External links[edit]


If you have any questions or suggestions, please email