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Research:Testing capacity of expressions of gratitude to enhance experience and motivation of editors

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
14:49, 2 May 2018 (UTC)
Duration:  2018-May – 2019-August
behavior, newcomers, thanks
This page documents a completed research project.

Wikipedia’s mission to provide a free encyclopedia depends not only on the ongoing recruitment and retention of new editors, but also on maintaining motivation among its current editors. Research in other domains shows that receiving gratitude for one’s work can increase motivation (Grant and Gino, 2010) and that when embedded in network structures such gratitude can become contagious (Spiro, Matias, Monroy-Hernandez 2016).

In this project, one of two studies, The Citizens and Technology Lab (formerly CivilServant) plans in collaboration with Aaron Halfaker, we are partnering with four Wikipedia language communities to test whether "Thanks", a feature that allows editors to express gratitude to each other, enhances the experience of editors and further motivates those editors. The study, which uses randomized trials, was and continues to be developed in collaboration with the needs and insights of the partnering Wikipedia communities. At the completion of the study, we will report to the individual partnering communities on the effectiveness of gratitude in their Wikipedia and to the broader Wikipedia community on the potential of gratitude prompts to increase positive outcomes in their Wikipedias.

About the Citizens and Technology Lab and "Citizen Behavioral Science"


CAT Lab is a nonprofit and research lab at Cornell University that works together with online communities for a flourishing internet. CAT Lab does this through "Citizen Behavioral Science", using experimental tools that can effectively identify designs that serve the online community well, at the same time working with those communities to ensure that the experimental process is open, transparent and driven by the insights and needs of that community. In past, CAT Lab has worked with multiple Reddit communities. CAT Lab, originally named CivilServant, is incubated by the citizen media organization Global Voices, which has a history of supporting people around the world to add indigenous language material to the web, including Wikipedia. CAT Lab is funded through donations from individuals and foundations. It does not take funds from-for profit corporations.



In this study we will test the effectiveness of Thanks to motivate Wikipedia contributors. Thanks allows editors to privately thank another user for a specific contribution to a Wikimedia project, including a new article or a spelling correction. A notification of appreciation is then directed to the contributor. In the study, we will randomly assign participants to receive a prompt to express appreciation for others' contributions and observe the outcomes for sender and receivers.

The primary outcome of interest is editor productivity (i.e., whether editors make more contributions if a page they edited had a gratitude prompt). Other outcome measures will include: editors’ attitudes towards Wikipedia and expressed experience on Wikipedia (determined by survey); the possible retention of newcomers who receive thanks; and cascade effects (i.e., if receivers of gratitude send gratitude messages themselves).

Note: In an earlier plan for this study, we also intended to study the impact of giving and receiving "Love", another tool that allows Wikipedians to express gratitude to each other.

Partnering communities


The project is a collaboration with four language Wikipedias—Arabic, German, Persian, and Polish. These Wikipedias are among a number CivilServant reached out after conducting a data analysis to determine that there was a sufficient amount of editor activity to conduct a study. Liaisons in each community work with CivilServant researchers to develop the research design so that the study answers questions that matter to that community and is conducted in a way that respects the communities' values and norms.

If you are active in a Wikipedia language community and want to hear from us when future calls for partners goes out, please reach out to juliakamin(cs) or add your username below.

  1. Ipigott (talk) 07:44, 19 July 2018 (UTC) (in connection with Women in Red on the EN wiki)


  • July-September 2018: Outreach and discussions with Wikipedias interested in participating in research project.
  • September-October 2018: Working with liaisons in participating communities to seek feedback from community about research project, including on the outcomes they care about, how to design the research and any concerns they may have.
  • October-November 2018: Design research in collaboration with community liaisons.
  • December 2018 – May 2019: Develop infrastructure to run the experiment.
  • June 2019 – February 2020: Conduct the experiment.
  • May 2020: Collect and analyse data
  • June 2020: Report results back to communities.

Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research


CivilServant originally worked with the Princeton University Institutional Review Board to ensure the study’s design and consent are in line with ethical standards applied to scholarly research. CivilServant also collaborated with participating Wikipedia communities to ensure that the design respects the dignity of all participants. Now that we have moved to Cornell, this research is governed by the Cornell University Institutional Review Board for Human Participant Research.

Project Updates




In this research we were interested in examining the effects of both giving and receiving thanks on an editor's feelings about on Wikipedia and on their motivation to contribute to their Wikipedia. We were also interested in whether receiving thanks from a Wikipedian would lead editors to thank others.

We did not find an effect on giving thanks, nor did we see an increase in productivity (measured by "labor hours" before and after treatment) among editors who received a Thanks. We did, however, observe a statistically significant increase in the two week retention of editors who received a thanks. Those editors were also 43 percentage points more likely to go on and thank another Wikipedian compared to editors in the control group.

You can read more details about the study and results in these blog posts:

If you have questions about this research, we encourage you to ask them on the talk page. Thanks!



Grant, A. M., & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks go a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(6), 946.

Spiro, E. S., Matias, J. N., & Monroy-Hernández, A. (2016, May). Networks of Gratitude: Structures of Thanks and User Expectations in Workplace Appreciation Systems. In ICWSM (pp. 358-367).



On June 11, when we publish the results, we anticipate building an FAQ here.