Research:The motivational arc of massive virtual collaboration

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

Key Personnel[edit]

Project Summary[edit]

Contributors’ motivations (i.e., factors related to level of contribution) have been extensively studied for projects such as Wikipedia. However, most prior work has been based on the assumption that motivations are the same for all contributors to a project. In contrast, Crowston and Fagnot's 2008 article, "The motivational arc of massive virtual collaboration", proposes that the motivation is not a singular phenomenon, but rather that there are at least three different levels of contributor—initial, sustained, and meta contributors—with distinct motivations. Initial users are non-participants who make their first contribution. Sustained contributors are individuals who regularly contribute. Finally, the authors define a novel type of contributor, meta-contributors, those whose work supports the social and technical infrastructure of the community (e.g., by helping to resolve disputes). Based on theoretical perspectives from social movement and work motivation theory, the authors propose a set of motivations unique to each type of contributor. The proposed project seeks to test these constructs and relationships through a survey of Wikipedia contributors of different types.


An invitation to fill out an on-line survey will be distributed to a stratified sample of account holders who match the definition of initial, sustained, and meta-contributors. We would like responses from at least 60 people per category with a total sample of 180 people. Assuming a 50% response rate (members of Rcom indicated that this what we might expect), we would need to reach out to 120 people in each category with a total 360 people contacted for the survey. We intend to contact potential respondents via their talk pages. Sampling of accounts will be done with the help of the Research Committee, who will, based on criteria for each category that we provide, produce a list of accounts.


  • We will write an executive summary of our findings and share it via mailing lists.
  • Detailed findings will be distributed through journal articles and conference papers.
  • Copies of preprints and published papers will be self-archived on a publicly accessible web site.
  • As appropriate, published findings will be referenced in relevant Wikipedia articles.

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

Upon receiving WMF approval for subject recruitment, we will obtain IRB approval from Syracuse University.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community[edit]

  • Expands the conversation regarding motivation for participation in open production to address particular activities on Wikipedia.
  • Identification of the different sets of motivations will benefit initiatives to recruit new contributors and convert them to sustained contributors.

Time Line[edit]

  • Survey open between April 2012-May 2012
  • Data analysis and summary May 2012-June 2012

External links[edit]


Gabriel Mugar, Phd Student, Syracuse University School of Information Studies.