Wikimedia Foundation Research Goals

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This document is still a draft and work in progress; please be bold in editing it, or suggesting revisions on the discussion page.

Purpose of this document[edit]

To articulate the key areas and broad questions related to Wikipedia and other projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, which the Wikimedia Foundation would like to see investigated by reputable research organizations.

Please feel free to share this document widely.


The Wikimedia Foundation wants to invite reputable research organizations (e.g., post-secondary institutions, non-profits such as Pew, etc.) to study Wikipedia and its sister projects, and their readers and contributors. We expect researchers will be interested in us because

  1. Wikipedia is the world's largest and most popular encyclopedia: as such, its cultural impact is interesting;
  2. Wikipedia is the world's most successful online collaboration project: much remains to be understood about online collaboration;
  3. The volunteers who create Wikipedia are participating in a public service project: their attitudes and motivations for that are worth exploring; and
  4. We are not proprietary or secretive: we are happy to have data, observations and analysis about us publicly shared.

Research conditions[edit]

Research efforts supported by the Wikimedia Foundation generally should meet the following conditions, which we consider best practice:

  • Promoting Open Access: The resulting research paper should be freely available online in perpetuity. Our preference is for all research and data to be published under a free content license.[1]
  • Promoting Open Source: To the extent that research requires the use of software running on Wikimedia Foundation controlled servers, all such software should be licensed as "open source software".[2]
  • Protecting Privacy: The Wikimedia Foundation does not disclose personally identifying information about its users without their permission.[3] To the extent that personal information is obtained from users in the course of research, our preference is for it to be retained for no longer than one year without participants' express permission.

Research objectives[edit]

The key goals of the Wikimedia Foundation for the year 2008 are:

  1. Financial sustainability: By developing multiple stable revenue sources, the Wikimedia Foundation will ensure it can continue to nurture and grow Wikipedia and its sister projects indefinitely.
  2. Organizational maturity: WMF will continue to develop a bedrock of policies, procedures, and controls. We will also fill critical staff positions related to fundraising, partnerships development, technology, communications, and public outreach.
  3. Increase quality and credibility: We want to encourage participation by subject matter experts, and give authors better tools to systematically develop and identify content of high quality. To the extent that existing quality characteristics of wiki content can be made more visible and known, we want to do that also.
  4. Broaden participation: We seek to broaden and diversify the contributor base to all Wikimedia projects, by identifying and reducing barriers to participation, increasing capacity and awareness, systematically promoting Wikimedia to key demographics, and so on.
  5. Increase distribution beyond websites: We will build tools and methods to remix and package content in various forms, including DVDs, USB sticks, and so on, making Wikimedia's educational offerings available to people who are not online.

Research supported by the Wikimedia Foundation will ideally relate to these organizational key goals. Specifically, our research objectives include:

Analyse usage and users of Wikimedia projects[edit]

  • To understand reader attitudes towards the projects and their understanding of it (speaks to goals 4, 3)
  • To understand how and why readers use our projects today (attitudes and behaviours) (3, 4, 5)
  • To understand reader attitudes towards project quality, including what drives perception of quality (3)
  • To understand the impact of Wikipedia on debate over contemporary political and social issues (3, 5)
  • To gauge appetite for offline versions (e.g., books, DVDs, USB sticks, etc.) (5)
  • To gauge appetite/relevancy/usefulness of various subject-matter areas (e.g., history, science, popular culture) (3, 5)
  • To understand how Wikimedia projects can be used in various 'external' contexts (e.g. education, research) (4, 3)

Analyse user contributions to Wikimedia projects[edit]

  • To understand why contributors contribute (4, 3)
  • To understand why former contributors have stopped contributing (4, 3)
  • To understand how people's stage of life may affect whether or how they interact with Wikipedia (4)
  • To understand differences between non-contributing readers and contributors (demographics, attitudes, etc.) (4)
  • To understand differences between light and heavy contributors (4, 3)
  • To understand differences between light and heavy non-contributing readers (3, 4)
  • To understand differences among reader attitudes in different countries/cultures (3, 4)
  • To understand barriers to participation/contribution (e.g. technological, cultural, political, institutional, educational) (4, 3)

Analyse (evolution of) content of Wikimedia projects[edit]

  • To objectively assess project quality level (e.g., comparisons with other encyclopedias, dictionaries, source repositories, peer review, reader assessments, etc.) (3)
  • To objectively assess how project quality has changed or is changing, over time (3)
  • To visualize and in other ways make explainable the development of Wikimedia projects (4)
  • To understand growth patterns in different languages, and conduct a full analysis of growth gaps (4)
  • To objectively assess how the topical coverage of projects has changed or is changing, over time (4)
  • To analyze the community and growth of projects (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wiktionary, and so on), and to understand patterns of success and failure (3, 4)

Current research partnerships[edit]

Currently, the Wikimedia Foundation is actively cooperating in the following research efforts:

  • UNU-Merit survey of Wikimedia readers and contributors, to be conducted in the first half of 2008.[4] We hope to repeat this survey annually.
  • Wikipedia article trust computation research by Luca de Alfaro, University of California, Santa Cruz.[5]

To the extent that it makes sense, we are interested in connecting individuals and institutions pursuing goals related to these ongoing efforts.