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Research:WikiProjects as Virtual Teams

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This page documents a completed research project.

Project Summary


This project will be conducted by a research team at the University of Washington, comprising students and faculty from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) and the Information School (iSchool). The project is conducted as part of a National Science Foundation grant awarded to the participating faculty to study virtual teams.

The components of that NSF research which fall under this project's heading are focused around the dissertation research of the Primary Investigator (PI), Jonathan Morgan, a PhD Candidate in HCDE. While Jonathan is also a Research Strategist (contractor) with the Wikimedia Foundation, this research is conducted voluntarily. The PI assumes and requests no Wikimedia Foundation support for this project, nor are his activities related to this project (e.g. interviews, data analysis, dissemination of findings) conducted in his role as a Wikimedia Foundation contractor.

To clarify this point, project-related edits to meta.wikimedia.org and en.wikipedia.org conducted through this project will be conducted using Jonathan's volunteer user account Jtmorgan (with allowances for occasional forgetfulness).

Project Goals


WikiProjects are self-organized, voluntary groups. Thousands have been created on Wikipedia, and hundreds are currently active. Projects share many common features, from the topics they choose to the tools they use and the way members interact. But each WikiProject is unique, and there are relatively few hard-and-fast rules about how projects should operate. WikiProjects are a kind of natural laboratory for innovation: they're free to experiment with different ways of working, and successful strategies can be freely adapted and adopted by other projects. This makes WikiProjects an ideal case study of how volunteer-driven teams work together online. Findings from this research could be useful for designing software that supports many different kinds of volunteer teams.



We primarily draw on quantitative analysis of edit logs, supported by semi-structured interviews with project members.



Findings from this research will be shared through this project page at intervals throughout the analysis. Links to research publications will be made available here as well. We will prioritize publishing in relevant scholarly venues (conferences and journals) with open archives, such as WikiSym and ECSCW. In the case of venues that do not have open archives, we will make pre-print drafts of publications available via a link from the project page.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection


The Institutional Review Board of the University of Washington has approved this project. Aggregated behavioral data in the form of edit logs will not be presented in a way that makes individual activity easily identifiable. Interview transcripts or excerpts published here or elsewhere will be anonymized, unless the interviewee gives written consent for publication of their username.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community


This project has both scientific and pragmatic goals. Scientifically, the project's goal is to better understand the factors that make voluntary virtual teams successful. Pragmatically, the project's goals are to support these teams: that is, WikiProjects. WikiProjects have been shown to be a valuable component of Wikipedia's micro-structure: editors who participate in WikiProjects tend to be more engaged and are retained at a higher rate than unaffiliated editors; and WikiProjects have also been recognized as an important mechanism for increasing and maintaining the quality of articles within their purview. Many WikiProjects have died out, and many others are only minimally active. And sadly, many new editors who would be happy to get involved with projects don't know they exist, or can't find an active one that matches their interests.

This project is informed by an action research paradigm: we intend to use the results of our research to support the community under study. The most immediate and concrete benefit of this research will be a set of design implications and actionable proposals for supporting WikiProject-based collaboration on Wikipedia and ensuring that the encyclopedia continues to benefit from these teams. We make these findings available on wiki precisely because we hope that they will inspire or inform Foundation and volunteer-driven efforts to encourage and support WikiProject-based collaboration.

The design of software tools to support specific projects is out of scope of this dissertation, and is not planned for "Phase 1" (January - July 2013). However, related design activities of the research team that are salient to this project will be driven by this research. In addition, the PI (a loyal Wikipedian and bot-wrangler) reserves the right to experiment with the design of project support tools in his (ever diminishing) free time.


  • January - March 2013: Data collection and preliminary analysis (logs, interviews)
  • April - June 2013: Write-up and dissemination of results (on Meta, in dissertation)
  • July 2013 - (?) 2014: Publication of research findings in scholarly venues



This project is supported by NSF IIS Human Centered Computing award #1162114, "Enhancing Social Translucence in Systems to Support Virtual Teaming".



Other science

  • Social capital increases efficiency of collaboration among Wikipedia editors: (ref, summary)
  • Coordination and beyond: social functions of groups in open content production: Combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of WikiProjects,
  • Socialization tactics in wikipedia and their effects. This paper analyzed welcome messages inviting editors to join a WikiProject and suggests that personalized approach to editors (commenting specifically on their edits, adding a note that clearly suggests more than an automatic message) rather then general welcome and similar boilerplate templates are much more effective in improving editors activity, satisfaction and retention.
  • Herding the cats: the influence of groups in coordinating peer production (2009). The findings suggest that when established editors join a Wikiproject, their editing activity will not change, but they will focus more on content within the WikiProject area, and are more likely to display "good citizenship behaviors" (such as vandal reverting, or carrying out previously unattractive maintenance work).
  • The kind, gentle approach to retaining new editors. This recent WMF blog provides support for the hypothesis that friendly interactions in WikiProjects support editor retention, satisfaction, and content quality growth.
  • Coordination and beyond: social functions of groups in open content production. This recent research paper finds that participating in a Wikiproject increases the amount of interaction an editor engages in with other editors (such as joint-editing, and talkpage-to-talkpage communication). Even 5 months after joining, Wikiproject-affiliated editors are interacting with others more than similar editors who aren't affiliated. They also show how Wikiprojects can help direct new editors to relevant work, and help them find collaborators and mentors.



If you are interested in participating in a research interview, please contact or email Jonathan (Jtmorgan).