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Research:Understanding Collaborations in Online Production Communities

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

Key Personnel

  • Haiyi Zhu
  • Robert Kraut
  • Aniket Kittur

Project Summary


Online production communities are becoming increasingly important in creating innovative products in the networked world. These organizations have successfully aggregated the efforts of millions of volunteers to produce complex artifacts such as GNU/Linux and Wikipedia.

Currently most large online projects primarily rely on a paradigm of self-direction in which contributors work primarily on the tasks they are interested in. However, this approach breaks down when there are conflicts between the interests of the ontributors and the interests of the project as a whole. For example, many people may want to work on the same popular areas (e.g., an article on “Barack Obama” in Wikipedia) while ignoring less popular areas that require work. Contributors may not want to perform maintenance and other unattractive tasks, even though these tasks are important to the continued functioning and health of the project. How could online production communities direct their members to accomplish tasks that are important to the group, even when these tasks may not match individual members’ interests?

In our previous research, we investigated the effects of a particular mechanism - Collaborations of the Week (COTW) - on directing volunteers' attentions and behaviors in Wikipedia. This mechanism specifies one or two articles need to improve during a defined time period (often a week or a month). With Wikipedia's 7 years archival data, we found that publicizing important group goals via COTW can have a strong motivating influence on editors. Furthermore, editors who participated in COTWs are more likely to perform similarly to the group core members on group-relevant maintenance behaviors (i.e. assessing the quality of the articles) than those who never participated in COTWs.

To further investigate what motivates editors to join COTW and what causes their behavior changes, we plan to conduct interviews on the COTW participants.



We plan to conduct interviews on Wikipedia editors.

  • Inclusion criteria

We plan to recruit Wikipedians who have experiences in participating in the Wikipedia's Collaborations of the Week (COTW) or other similar collaboration activities.

  • Method

The interviews will be conducted via emails or instant messengers, lasting around 30-40 min for each participant.



The research findings will be published and shared with WMF.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection


This is a minimal risk study that involves no special procedures.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community


Participants in our study might become more thoughtful about their experiences in Wikipedia. In general, our research can help the Wikipedia community develop guidelines about how to coordinate contributors' work.



This project is funded by NSF grant: Coordination in Virtual Organizations.



Zhu, Haiyi; Kraut, Robert E.; Kittur, Aniket(2012). "Organizing without Formal Organization: Group Identification, Goal Setting and Social Modeling in Directing Online Production". Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. To Appear.



Haiyi Zhu, haiyizhu, haiyiz@cs.cmu.edu

Robert E. Kraut, Robertekraut, robert.kraut@cmu.edu

Aniket Kittur, Nkittur, nkittur@cs.cmu.edu