Research:Understanding the Editor/Bot Relationship

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This page documents a completed research project.

Key Personnel[edit]

  • Randall Livingstone, Faculty, School of Communication, Endicott College (formerly of the School of Journalism & Communication, University of Oregon)

Project Summary[edit]

The goal of this research project is to consider the intersections of digital media, socio-technical systems, and collective intelligence on the world’s largest encyclopedia and arguably largest project of intelligence, Wikipedia.

The specific aims of this study are to understand how and why Wikipedia editors and administrators conceptualize, create, and interact with software tools, automated robots (“bots”), and digital protocol that are implicated in the potential for collective intelligence in a socio-technical system like Wikipedia.

The study will involve both online and in-person interviews. Online interviews will be conducted using Skype video conferencing, Google Chat instant messaging, or an email client. Data will be collected, encrypted, and saved to my personal computer. Data from in-person interviews will be recorded using a digital audio recorder, then transferred, encrypted, and saved to my personal computer.

Recruitment Details[edit]

For this study I am primarily interested in interviewing editors, administrators, and programmers involved in the creation and management of bots and automated editing tools on Wikipedia. I am committed to doing so in a responsible and unobtrusive matter. I will seek a comprehensive sample of interviewees in three ways:

  1. A convenience sample will be drawn from Wikipedia editors residing in or near Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland, Oregon, where the locations of the state’s primary universities are likely to produce a suitable number of interviewees. Subjects will be solicited through university listservs and directories, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist), and appropriate online wiki forums. Editors may also be recruited through a limited number of posts on appropriate Wikipedia: Meetup Discussion pages.
  2. A second convenience sample of interviewees will be drawn from all Wikipedia editors involved in creating bots or assisted editing tools on the site (approximately 1,500), as well as past and present members of the Wikipedia: Bots Approval Group (approximately 50). Subjects will be solicited through a message on appropriate Discussion pages and a one-time invitation on their user talk page or via email if enabled on the user space (if an email is sent, only a "you've got mail" template will be posted to the user talk page). Ideally, interviews will be conducted with 5-10% of this population.
  3. A third convenience sample will be drawn from attendees of The International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (WikiSym) held in Mountain View, CA, October 3-5, 2011. Subjects will be solicited via email from information acquired from the registered conference participants list.

Other notes:

  • If an editor chooses not to respond to the invitation message, she or he will not be contacted again.
  • This project has received IRB approval from the Office for Protection of Human Subjects at the University of Oregon (a copy of the approved protocol is available upon request). As the invitation message states, by participating in an interview, the editor is providing informed consent to participate in the study; users may choose to not answer any question(s) and/or withdraw at any time.

Benefits for Wikipedia[edit]

In addition to advancing our knowledge about Wikipedia and online participation in general, this study could have several direct benefits for the Wikipedia community:

  1. The research gives a voice to editors involved in the bot creation and approval processes and seeks to understand why and how these editors participate in this way (including how much time and effort go into their pursuits).
  2. The research helps us better understand how collaboration takes place between editors and automated editing tools and how this collaboration propels and potentially improves the Wikipedia environment.

Sharing the Study's Findings[edit]

I am fully interested in sharing this project's findings with the Wikipedia community. I am planning to:

  • Create an easy-to-read executive summary of the findings, which will be distributed to participating editors, as well as linked to on appropriate Talk pages.
  • Publish/share the findings in academic journals and communication studies conferences.

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

This research is a project for Randall Livingstone, School of Journalism & Communication, University of Oregon. As previously stated, the project has been reviewed and approved (protocol #08262011.107) by the Office for the Protection of Human Subjects at the University of Oregon on 8/30/11. This Institutional Review Board (IRB) ensures that our research protocol and methods will conform to strict standards of informed consent and openness of data collection methods.

Time Line[edit]

  • Study launched (~ September/October 2011)
  • Data collection (September 2011 - June 2012)
  • Executive summary available (~ December 2012)
  • The full dissertation is currently available at[dead link]

Contact Us[edit]

I certainly welcome your feedback and input. Please contribute to the Discussion page or feel free to contact me directly via email at