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

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This page documents a planned research project.
Information may be incomplete and change before the project starts.

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 CivilServant plans in collaboration with Aaron Halfaker, we aim to partner with four Wikipedia language communities to test whether "Thanks" and "Love", two features that allows editors to express gratitude to each other, enhance the experience of editors and further motivate those editors. The study will use randomized trials, but the exact shape of its design will 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.

CivilServant and "Citizen Behavioral Science"[edit]

CivilServant is a nonprofit that works together with online communities for a flourishing internet. CivilServant 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 insure that the experimental process is open, transparent and driven by the insights and needs of that community. In past, CivilServant has worked with multiple reddit communities. 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. CivilServant 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 gratitude to motivate Wikipedia contributors. The basic design of the study is described below, but the exact design - including the treatment conditions and outcome measures - will be determined in collaboration with four partnering Wikipedia communities.

In this research, we plan to test two kinds of appreciation messages. The first system allows readers to privately thank a contributor for a specific contribution on a Wikimedia project, including a new article or a spelling correction. A notification of appreciation is then directed to the contributor. A second system allows any authenticated reader (someone with a username and password on the site) to send a "love" that shares a personalized message to a public page that lists all of the appreciation the person has received. In both cases, 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 possible measures include readers’ and editors’ attitudes towards other Wikipedians (determined by survey) and cascade effects (i.e. if receivers of gratitude send gratitude messages themselves).

Partnering communities[edit]

The project plans to work with one Wikipedia community to act as our pilot partner, helping us to develop a system for gratitude messages. We will soon announce a broad call to Wikipedia language communities to help us find three additional partners who will design and run a second round of experimental trials. To maximize the effectiveness of those trials, we will seek to collaborate with communities that are geographically diverse and strongly committed to testing the potential impact of gratitude prompt.

If you are active in a Wikipedia language community and want to hear from us when our formal call for partners goes out, please add your username below.

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

Update September, 2018: We are now in discussion with members of three Wikipedias - Arabic, Persian and Polish - about collaborating on Gratitude research in their communities. If you are interested in discussing working on such a study in your non-English Wikipedia community, please reach out to juliakamin(cs).


  • September, 2018: Continued 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.
  • November-December, 2018: Develop infrastructure to run the experiment.
  • January-March, 2019: Run the experiment.
  • April-May, 2019: Analyse data and report results back to communities.

Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research[edit]

CivilServant will work with the Princeton University Institutional Review Board to insure the study’s design and consent are in line with ethical standards applied to scholarly research. In addition to those requirements, CivilServant will work with participating Wikipedia communities to ensure that the design respects the dignity of all participants. When those plans are complete and approved we will post them here.


Results of the study will be be posted here. We will report not only on the effectiveness of gratitude prompts in each of the four communities that tested it, but also on its potential to improve the experience of newcomers and experienced editors in other Wikipedia communities.


Grant, A. M., & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks goes 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).