Wikimedia Fellowships/Project Ideas/Wikiprojects Success, Failure and Impact on Content and Community

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List of Project Ideas Wikimedia Fellowship Project Idea

This project proposes to first test several hypothesis about the importance WikiProjects for content creation, editors' satisfaction and retention. Second, once the importance of WikiProjects for the project is backed by hard data, I suggest several ways in which WMF and the community can improve the functioning of WikiProjects.

Q:How does the project fit with WMF goals and current fellowship program theme(s)? What will the project drivers do, how will they do it, and what will change as a result?
A:The project should provide both data and actionable suggestions regarding ways to improve content quality, editors' satisfaction and retention. As a result, I anticipate we will be able to increase editors' participation in WikiProjects, and overall, content quality and editor satisfaction and retention.
Q: Does it serve the many or the few?
A:Many! All editors involved in WikiProjects, and the wider Wikipedia community in general!
Q:After the fellowship is over, how could the initiative continue?
A: Ideas for strengthening the WikiProject structure should be implemented during or shortly after fellowship, and be self-sustainable (just like WikiProjects are).
Q: How can the project model solutions to generate movement-wide value?
A: As WikiProjects exist on numerous language Wikipedias, and some other WMF projects, the solutions have a very wide impact, going beyond just the English Wikipedia.
Q: How will we know if the outcome is successful?
A: The number of active WikiProject, and their membership, can be (and to a degree already are) tracked. Within several months of implementing various solutions, provided the hypotheses are confirmed, we should see an increase in the relevant numbers.


WikiProjects are an ancient Wikipedia institution, dating to the very beginnings of Wikipedia (the idea was first put forward in September 2001). It is my belief that WikiProjects are of vital importance to our community; at the same time, they have never been a focus of much attention from the WMF or from the academic community. This seems to be a major blindspot in our vision; we are constantly looking for how to improve our content, and editors' numbers and retention - yet we are ignoring one of the best tools at our disposal (yes, the WikiProjects).

Previous work[edit]

en:WP:ACST shows that there have been little academic work done on WikiProjects. A bright exception is the Research:Wikiproject Participation & Mentorship carried out last summer. The findings of this project suggest that newbies who join a WikiProject engage in generally positive interactions with other Wikipedians, and we have a number of other studies confirming that such engagement helps with editor retention.

Related work:

  • Regular updates about active WikiProjects from the Signpost. See example overviews such as this 2010 report, this 2011 report, this 2012 report
  • 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.

Research plan[edit]

Let me pose several hypotheses that I believe should be studied:

  1. WikiProjects are conductive to developing friendly and motivating atmosphere, thus enforcing editor's retention ratio;
  2. WikiProjects are conductive to developing content in their area (there should be a correlation between activity of a WikiProject and quality/quantity of related Wikipedia content);
  3. general participation in active WikiProjects is relatively low, with only few significantly active editors making most WikiProjects alive. It is likely that most active WikiProjects are run by only several dedicated individuals;
  4. most WikiProjects are inactive, as the few editors who kept them alive became inactive, and were not replaced by a new generation. As of 2 April 2012, en:Category:Active WikiProjects had 687 entries; semi-active, 115, defunct and inactive, 53 and about 350, respectively, but in my personal experience, most WikiProjects classified as active are semi-active or worse.

If the above hypothesis are true, there are several conclusions to be drawn. First, much of Wikipedia content exists because of WikiProjets. Second, WikiProjects exist thanks to only a small number of editors. Therefore, the project would benefit immensely if WikiProjects were more active. Finally, even a small increase in WikiProject membership (one - two active editors for a project) would have a major impact on the content.

Much of the data can be gathered through non-intrusive content analysis (analyzing public archives of WikiProject discussions). Interviews or a survey of WikiProject members would nicely compliment that data. The following research questions should be asked:

  1. why are you involved with a WikiProject / why aren't you involved with a WikiProject anymore?
  2. what makes your WikiProject active / useful? (camaderie? tools?)
  3. what made you stop your involvement in a WikiProject? (I predict that the answer is most likely: there were not enough active editors to make it interesting)
  4. how do the most active WikiProject function? What are they, and what makes them successful?

Predicted outcome[edit]

Assuming that the data collection and analysis from stage one confirms the hypotheses about the importance of WikiProjects for article quality and editors' satisfactiona and retention, I would suggest that WMF endorses various initiatives aimed at improving the functioning of the projects. I outline some below.

The following are my suggestions to WMF/community at large. We should:

  1. recognize the positive role WikiProjects play in our community (support "WikiLove" towards WikiProjects); the goal here is to increase the editors willingness to be involved with WikiProject by making them feel proud/good about their involvement. This could take form of an official WMF barnstar awarded to active WikiProject and its members, combined with featuring on the WMF blog and Facebook. This could be also combined with the Wikipedia Signpost series of WikiProject interviews (see en:Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/Archives/WikiProject report). In short, upon a publication of a Signpost interview, we could feature it (or a brief) on a WMF blog, and have a bot (or a staffer, or a volunteer) issue barnstars.
  2. many WikiProjects are inactive, lacking a sufficient number of editors. This is due to several factors:
    editors active in a WikiProject area may not be aware of a WikiProject existence;
    editors active in a WikiProject area might have determined that the WP is inactive, and given up on it. Assuming this occurs at a specific point in time (an editor asks a question at a WP page, sees no answer for a week or two, and never checks again), we likely have a number of editors who have done it at various points in time. We should identify them, notify them of one another's existence, and bring them together;
    similar WikiProjects would benefit from merging, at least as far as having one centralized discussion place, so that they can reach the active level and look active to their members and newcomers; this is particularly relevant with regards to semi-active/inactive WikiProjects, which periodically attract an editor who looks around, sees no activity, and abandons them (critical mass of active editors is likely the key);
  3. aid WikiProject recruitment
    editors active in topic areas should be encouraged to join a WikiProject, and to post to the relevant (WikiProject) discussion page; this could be done through a refinement of the welcome template I've developed, that welcomes news editors and informs them of an existence of a WikiProject of interest to them;
    we know that personalized messages are most helpful for recruitment and retention, but has this knowledge trickled down to WikiProjects? We could create a guide for their most active members, inform them of good procedures, and create more tools like the above template that are easy (1-click) to use, yet support personalized messages;
    there is room to boost WikiProject membership through recruiting outside Wikipedia (professional organizations); thus synergy with outreach program.
  4. I would suggest a creation of a new WikiProject (or expanding the scope of an existing one, most likely en:Wikipedia:WikiProject Council) endorsed and advertised by WMF, which would set up a goal of reviewing all existing WikiProjects, determining whether they could benefit from a merge, and identifying active editors in their content areas who should be invited to participate in it. This WikiProject could also perform other related tasks designed to help other WikiProjects.
  5. develop tools to make the WikiProjects more efficient. A major if latent function of WikiProjects is the fostering of camaraderie (ties) between editors of common interests, but the WikiProject manifest functions are not to be underestimated. Those are the tools that make projects useful beyond mere discussion boards. For example, en:Wikipedia:WikiProject Poland has lists of most popular articles, a matrix of quality vs. importance, article news feed, new article feed, cleanup lists, notes on Poland-related article naming conventions, dedicated awards, and other tools. en:Wikipedia:WikiProject Sociology promises support for sociology-instructors and professionals. There is surely more than can be done, and a gentle push from WMF encouraging development of such tools would be helpful.
  6. in addition to the proposals outlined above, we should start a Request for Comment, in which we would brainstorm with the community for other ideas to improve the functioning of WikiProjects

Idea submitted by[edit]

  • Piotrus (talk) 18:08, 3 April 2012 (UTC) (Piotr Konieczny).

Prospective fellows[edit]

Would you like to be considered for a fellowship to work on this project?

If you'd like to take an active role in this project, either alone or in a team of fellows with complementary skills, please add your name below. Note that in order to be considered for a fellowship, you must also submit an application to the program.

  1. Piotrus (talk) 18:08, 3 April 2012 (UTC) (Piotr Konieczny). As a Wikipedia researcher who proposed this research project, and an active Wikipedian, I believe I would be a very good fit to carry out this research during a WMF fellowship.
  2. Your name here!


This section is for endorsements by the Wikimedia community. Please note that this is not a debate, vote, or poll, but is rather a space for volunteers to describe in detail why they think a project idea is of value. If you have concerns or questions rather than an endorsement to make, please use the idea Talk page. Endorsements by volunteers willing to work in collaboration with a fellowship recipient on a project are highly encouraged.

  • This proposal seems especially relevant now. It's getting harder and harder for new editors to find relevant work (and co-workers) on Wikipedia. In a recent survey we conducted of new editors who visited the Teahouse we asked them about what kinds of information resources they wanted most. The top response (chosen by 70% of respondents) was "a list of Wikiprojects that are looking for new members". Jtmorgan (talk) 22:21, 6 April 2012 (UTC)

This seems like a particularly great theme for a a project. Research on Wikiproject is pretty scarce and research is needed in the area to find the best ways to revitalize old WikiProjects and to create new ones. Specially in the "emerging Wikipedias". Chico (talk) 19:48, 11 April 2012 (UTC)

Oh, and I definitely would want to help with this. I'd even work to try this out in ptwiki as well if Piotrus agrees. Chico (talk) 19:51, 11 April 2012 (UTC)
  • this looks reasonably thought through, both methodologically and in regard to whether it would make a real difference on the content projects, regards --Jan eissfeldt (talk) 21:55, 20 April 2012 (UTC)
  • I'm particularly interested in seeing a convincing test of the idea that one or two people actively organizing a WikiProject can have a significant positive impact on broader retention and editor activity. If that can be demonstrated, it'd be a powerful incentive for people to get more involved with WikiProjects, and a way to give a lot more people the opportunity to become a meaningful leader in the community.--Ragesoss (talk) 00:02, 10 May 2012 (UTC)
    • This is a very important point, and something I am sure to tackle if/when I get around to studying WikiProjects! --Piotrus (talk) 16:32, 22 May 2012 (UTC)
  • I completely support this! I hope that I am not too late in the decision making, I am sorry that I just found this page and the opportunity to comment on proposals for community fellowships. But I support Piotrus project because it can also be a really great way to help involve academics. I made a similar suggestion to the Wikipedia US Education Working Group (without any idea that this had already been proposed!). If the Wikiprojects were much more navigable then it would be a really nice way to involve the community with the work being done in the classroom. All the best! MichChemGSI (talk) 18:49, 24 May 2012 (UTC)