Home & Office Computing
The Web/Virtual Worlds/Social Networking
- By Eric Goldman
- Jul 15, 2010
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- In 2009, I did a small and unscientific study of user turnover at Epinions, an early Web 2.0 company now part of the eBay empire. See “Frequently Asked Questions about the eBay Announcement,” http://www1.epinions.com/help/faq/show_~faq_announcement (last visited Aug. 27, 2009). My study revealed that two-thirds of Epinions’ top 20 most popular authors in 1999 had turned over in nine years, and 25 percent of Epinions’ top 20 most popular authors in 2003 had turned over in five years. See posting of Eric Goldman to Technology & Marketing Law Blog, “Decay Rates of Committed Online Community Membersan Epinions Case Study,” http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2009/01/decay_rates_of_1.htm (January 26, 2009, 06:09).
- Research by Panciera et al. may be the closest study on this question. They discuss the lifecycle of Wikipedia editors, including how editors of all levels decrease their participation over time. Panciera et al., supra note 59; accord Rodrigo B. Almeida et al., “On the Evolution of Wikipedia,” Int’l Conf. on Weblogs & Soc. Media 1, 5 (2007), http://oak.cs.ucla.edu/~cho/papers/almeida-icwsm07.pdf (“[W]hen looking at the whole group of our users together, we can conclude that their average productivity is decreasing overall…”).
- See Panciera et al., supra note 59.
- Wikipedia is particularly vulnerable to life changes among its contributors because they are overwhelmingly young, unmarried, and childless. See Noam Cohen, “Wikipedia Looks Hard at Its Culture,” NY Times. Aug. 31, 2009, at B3 (Wikipedia contributors are more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent+ childless, and 70 percent are under 30 years old).
- See Stephan Baker, “Will Work for Praise: The Web’s Free-Labor Economy,” Bus. Wk., Dec. 28, 2008, http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/dec2008/tc20081228_809309.htm.
- One example is the battle between “inclusionists” and “deletionists.” See Soul Battle, supra note 56; see alsoBaker, supra note 11; Johnson, supra note 72 (“[T]he numbers suggest that the deletionists may have won.”).
- See Soul Battle, supra note 56.
- People’s motivation to contribute declines when they feel like they are not making a positive contribution. See Susan L. Bryant et al., “Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of Participation in a Collaborative Online Encyclopedia,” Proc. 2005 Int’l ACM SIGGROUP Conf. on Supporting Group Work (2005), http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~asb/papers/bryant-forte-bruckman-group05.pdf; Panciera et al., supra note 59, at 55; Cosley, supra note 4, at 67.
- The Open Directory Project is also called DMOZ. DMOZ Open Directory Project, http://www.dmoz.org (last visited September 25, 2009).
- About the Open Directory Project, http://www.dmoz.org/about.html (last visited September 25, 2009).
- Mark Durham, “Google: We’re Down with ODP,” Salon, March 24, 2000, http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/03/24/google_odp/index.html.
- Posting of countrystarr to SEOmozBlog, “Want to Get Listed in DMOZ? Become an Editor,” http://www.seomoz.org/blog/want-to-get-listed-in-dmoz-become-an-editor (April 29, 2009, 11:40); Jim Hedger, “Trouble at the ODP,” Search Engine Guide, May 26, 2005, http://www.searchengineguide.com/jim-hedger/trouble-at-the-odp.php (discussing allegations of pay-to-play among DMOZ editors).
- Posting of Barry Schwartz to Search Engine Land, “Don’t Forget About Us, The Web Directories,” http://searchengineland.com/dont-forget-about-us-the-web-directories-18601 (May 5, 2009, 08:33 EST); Hedger, supra note 84.
- “DMOZ Had 9 Lives. Used Up Yet?,” http://www.skrenta.com/2006/12/dmoz_had_9_lives_used_up_yet.html (December 16, 2006, 12:09).
- See supra text accompanying notes 58–60.
- See Swartz, “Who Writes,” supra note 25 (noting that Wikipedia insiders never hear the perspectives of occasional contributors and therefore do not prioritize projects that would help their recruitment); cf. Bryant, supra note
- Ayers, supra note 16, at 195 (“If you spend any serious amount of time writing for Wikipedia, you’ll feel you’ve wasted it if your edits or articles are not incorporated on the site in some fashion.”).
- “Wikipedia: Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Please_do_not_bite_the_newcomers (last visited September 18, 2009) (“It is difficult for a newcomer to be completely familiar with all of the policies, guidelines, and community standards of Wikipedia before they start editing.”) [hereinafter “Wikipedia: Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers”].
- SeeKen S. Myers, “WikImmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia,” 20 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 163, 203 (2006).
- In fact, Wikimedia Foundation (which operates Wikipedia and other wikis) has fewer than 30 employees. SeeStaff from Wikimedia Foundation, http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Staff (last visited September 17, 2009).
- These contributions may even be illegal. See Press Release, New York State Attorney General, “Attorney General Cuomo Secures Settlement with Plastic Surgery Franchise that Flooded Internet with False Positive Reviews” (July 14, 2009), available at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/media_center/2009/july/july14b_09.html.
- “Wikipedia: Conflict of Interest,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_company (last visited September 18, 2009) [hereinafter Wikipedia: Conflict of Interest]; “Wikipedia: Paid Editing (policy),” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Paid_editing_(policy) (last visited October 27, 2009) (“Paid editing is a type of conflict of interest (COI).”) [hereinafter Wikipedia: Paid Editing Policy].
- “Wikipedia: Paid Editing Policy,” supra note Error! Bookmark not defined. (“Do not edit Wikipedia to promote your own interests, or those of other individuals or of organizations, including employers, unless you are certain that the interests of Wikipedia remain paramount.”); Ayers, supra note 16, at 17 (“NPOV is also a prime reason why editors are strongly discouraged from working on articles about themselves or their organizations.”); id. at 165 (“If you’re considering an article about yourself or your companyplease don’t. Even with the best of intentions, this can be seen as self-promotion and often leads to the article being deleted.”). Wikipedia policies do not bar company employees from editing entries that have nothing to do with advancing the company’s interests, but it is not clear how many companies would allocate their employees’ time that way.
- SeeBrian Bergstein, “Idea of Paid Entries Roils Wikipedia,” Fox News, Jan. 24, 2007, http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_wires/2007Jan24/0,4675,WikipediaPaidEntries,00.html; Cade Metz, Jimbo Wales: “No One Can Make Money from Wikipedia,” The Register, June 12, 2009, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/12/wikipedia_cash_for_spam/; “Wikipedia: Conflict of Interest,” supra note 94; see also Zittrain, supra note 5, at 140–41 (discussing Wikipedia’s repeated banning of MyWikiBiz, a service that offered to write Wikipedia entries for a fee). See generally “Wikipedia: Requests for Comment/Paid Editing,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_comment/Paid_editing (last visited October 27, 2009) (“The majority of those that offered their own opinion statements felt that paid editing was a conflict of interest which should be discouraged or controlled in some way.”).
- See John Borland, “See Who’s Editing WikipediaDiebold, the CIA, a Campaign,” Wired, August 14, 2007, http://www.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/08/wiki_tracker.
- See Mangu-Ward, supra note 36,at 18; Benjamin K. Johnson, “Incentives to Contribute in Online Collaboration: Wikipedia as Collective Action,”Int’l Commc’n Ass’n 58th Ann. Conf. 1, 18 (2008), http://asurams.edu/coah/EngLangMass/faculty/bjohnson/Incentives_to_Contribute.pdf.
- “Wikipedia: Requests for Adminship,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_adminship (last visited September 18, 2009).
- See, e.g., “Wikipedia: List of Wikipedians by Number of Edits,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_Wikipedians_by_number_of_edits (last visited September 18, 2009). Many Wikipedia editors prominently display the number of their edits on their personal user pages.
- See, e.g., “Wikipedia: Featured Articles,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Featured_articles (last visited September 18, 2009).
- “Wikipedia: Barnstars,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Barnstars (last visited September 18, 2009). There are additional informal forms of recognition. See Ayers, supra note 16, at 333–34.
- This is consistent with Aaron Swartz’s theory that Wikipedia focuses most of its development resources on the needs of insiders, not newcomers. See Swartz, “Who Writes,” supra note 25.
- “Wikipedia: FAQ,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_FAQ#Who_wrote_article_X_on_Wikipedia.3F (last visited September 18, 2009); Ayers, supra note 16, at 103; Sunstein, supra note 4, at 1While every edit is attributed in the article’s history, this is more obscure and less definitive than more traditional forms of article attribution like a byline. In fact, many registered Wikipedia editors choose to use an alias/pseudonym. See Ayers, supra note 16, at 305; see also Sanger, supra note 71, at 52, 66 (describing why Wikipedia cannot allow people to use their real names).
- For example, the mainstream media has repeatedly profiled Harriet Klausner, Amazon’s long-time top reviewer. See, e.g., “Joanne Kaufman, A Novel Heroine,” WALL ST. J., March 29, 2005, http://www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110006483; see also Mark Frauenfelder, “Revenge of the Know-It-Alls,” Wired, July 2000, at 1
- A star system could work like a workplace “tournament,” which encourages employees to work hard by offering the chance to be promoted to lucrative future jobs. See Marc Galanter and Thomas Palay, Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Big Law Firm (1991); Iman Anabtawi, “Explaining Pay Without Performance: The Tournament Alternative,” 54 Emory L.J. 1557, 1584–90 (2005).
- See Ayers, supra note 16, at 38–41.
- See, e.g., Heather Meeker, “Remarks at the Law & Computers Session,” AALS Annual Meeting (Jan. 9, 2009), http://www.aalsweb.org/fri/LawandComputers.mp3 (20 percent of FOSS participants were corporate in 1999; now it is closer to 80 percent); see also John Quiggin and Dan Hunter, “Money Ruins Everything,” 30 Hastings Comm. & Ent. L.J. 203, 218–19 (2008); Sunstein, supra note 4, at 173.
- See, e.g., Ron
Goldman and Richard P. Gabriel, “Innovation
Happens Elsewhere,” 76–99
(2005); Quiggin & Hunter,
supra note 108, at 219.
- See, e.g., Goldman and Gabriel, supra note 109; Meeker, supra note 108.
- See, e.g., Josh Lerner and Jean Tirole, “Some Simple Economics of Open Source,” 50 J. INDUS. ECON. 197, 213 (2002).
- See Duguid, supra note 15.
- See id.
- See, e.g., Sunstein, supra note 4, at 174–75; Duguid, supra note 15.
- Duguid, supra note 15 (“[S]ocial processes of Open Source software production may transfer to other fields of peer production, but, with regard to quality, software production remains a special case.”).
- See Sunstein, supra note 4, at 157; Johnson, supra note 98, at 25.
- SeeBenkler, supra note 1, at 94.
- In response to a draft of this article, Timothy B. Lee argued that Wikipedia’s labor supply should not be a problem given United States residents’ surplus of leisure time, which should enable Wikipedia to thrive so long as even a small fraction of that leisure time is allocated towards Wikipedia. See Posting of Timothy B. Lee to Bottom-Up, Hobbies Don’t Need “Incentives for Participation,” http://timothyblee.com/?p=849 (September 9, 2009). But it is not enough to know that Wikipedia has a potential labor supply; instead, we have to explain why people will allocate their time to Wikipedia rather than the many other professional and leisure activities competing for their available time.
- See Strahilevitz, supra note 16.
- Extensive academic literature exists on community formation, maintenance, and dissolution in the offline world, including research on immigration/citizenship, alternative living arrangements like kibbutzim and 19th century utopian colonies, and participation in non-profit organizations. Although beyond this article’s scope, it would be fruitful to explore that literature and analogize it to Wikipedia. Even so, Wikipedia differs from offline communities in important ways. Most obviously, unlike almost all other offline communities, Wikipedia draws from a global labor supply that can join or exit at effectively zero out-of-pocket costs.
- Jonathan Zittrain has made the analogy that bumblebees should not be able to fly in theory, yet they seem to do fine in practice. Zittrain, supra note 5, at 148; see also Shirky, supra note 13, at 117.
- See generally Suh et al., supra note 25 (showing how various metrics of Wikipedia activity have reversed their upward trends since 2007).
- See Noam Cohen, “Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City,” NY Times, March 29, 2009, at WK3; Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder, Opening Plenary at Wikimania 2006 (Aug. 4, 2006), http://wikimania2006.wikimedia.org/wiki/Opening_Plenary_(transcript) (“But with more than 1 million articles in English, I think we should continue to turn our attention away from growth, and towards quality.”). One hypothesis is that the John Seigenthaler incident in September 2005 helped accelerate the refocus from site building to site maintenance: “The Seigenthaler incident prompted an intense effort to write more accurately sourced articles, to institute a zero-tolerance environment for nonsense, and to recognize that people who have no desire to work on the site themselves may be affected by Wikipedia articles.” Ayers, supra note 16, at 52.
- See Cosley, supra note 4, at 104; Manjoo, supra note 52; Suh et al., supra note 25 (hypothesizing that conflict increases on Wikipedia as the site exhausts opportunities to make novel contributions).
- Cf. Aniket Kittur et al., “Power of the Few Versus Wisdom of the Crowd: Wikipedia and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie,” Proc. 25th Ann. ACM Conf. on Human Factors in Computing Systems 1, 8 (2007), http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~echi/papers/2007-CHI/2007-05-altCHI-Power-Wikipedia.pdf (discussing how increased Wikipedia bureaucracy over time was possibly contributing to changes in contributors’ editing practices).
- See Priedhorsky, supra note 20 (discussing the exponential growth of threats from 2003–06).
- See Giles, supra note 57 (citing research by Ed Chi that the rate of reversion for occasional editors has increased substantially since 2003). Increasing xenophobia, or other efforts to discourage newcomers, may be common in UGC communities. Cf. Posting of Michael Forster to Net-Happenings, http://oii.org/lists/lifecycle.html (March 31, 1995, 07:57 EST).
- SeeAyers, supra note 16, at 419–42 (providing usage statistics for other Wikimedia projects); see also Monthly Wikimedia Page Hits Comparison, http://wikistics.falsikon.de/latest (last visited September 15, 2009) (showing the comparatively small traffic volume of non-Wikipedia projects).
- Spammers can easily defeat CAPTCHAs. See, e.g., Posting of Dancho Danchev to ZDNet’s Zero Day, http://blogs.zdnet.com/security/?p=1418 (July 3, 2008, 05:46).
- See Ayers, supra note 16, at 52 (discussing how banning new articles from anonymous submitters helped reduce the workload of eliminating new “nonsense pages”); id. at 143 (“[S]emi-protection filters out a high proportion of vandalism.”).
- “Wikipedia: Welcoming Committee,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Welcoming_committee (last visited December 31, 2008). Even automated greetings can improve participation. See Cosley, supra note 4, at 114.
- “Wikipedia: Adopt-a-User,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adopt-a-User (last visited July 3, 2009).
- Johnson, supra note 98, at
- “Wikipedia: Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers,” supra note
- See Dan Ariely, “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” (2008); Benkler, supra note 1, at 94; Baker, supra note 77.
- Although not directly analogous, WikiMoney was a user-created system from 2003 to 2004 that used a scarce fungible currency to motivate other users to undertake valuable tasks, but it never caught on. See “Wikipedia: WikiMoney,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiMoney (last visited July 3, 2009). The concept persists in the Wikipedia Reward Board, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reward_board, where users generally offer barnstars to each other to do desired tasks, and the Wikipedia Bounty Board, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Bounty_board, where donations to the Wikimedia Foundation are made for the completion of desired tasks.
- Options include Google Knol (http://knol.google.com), Squidoo (http://www.squidoo.com), Mahalo (http://www.mahalo.com), and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome).
- SeeRafe Needleman, “Mahalo 2.0 Is Wikipedia Plus Money,” CNET News, June 2, 2009, http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10255071-2.html (“Most people I talk to, though, don’t see Mahalo results pop up in their daily search engine use and can’t remember the last time they used the site.”); Posting of Eric Krangel to Silicon Alley Insider, http://www.alleyinsider.com/2009/1/why-has-knol-survived-googles-orphan-project-killing-spree-goog (January 25, 2009, 3:30 PM).
- See Posting of Eric Goldman to Technology & Marketing Law Blog, “Zittrain on the Dark Sides of Crowdsourcing,” http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2009/10/zittrain_on_the.htm (October 27, 2009, 12:06).
- See supra notes 90–93 and accompanying text.
- In part to attract academics, Wikipedia’s competitor/offshoot Citizendium publicly recognizes contributors. See “CZ:Why Citizendium?,” http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Why_Citizendium%3F#Real_names_are_better (last visited September 22, 2009).
- See Ayers, supra note 16, at 55; see “Wikipedia: There is No Credential Policy,” supra note See generally “Wikipedia: Ownership of Articles,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Ownership_of_articles (last visited July 5, 2009) (discussing how contributors must allow others to edit their contributions) [hereinafter “Wikipedia: Ownership of Articles”]. Also, Wikipedia has egalitarian norms; seeAyers, supra note 16, at 54, which can conflict with hierarchical norms common in many academic communities.
- See“Wikipedia: Ownership of Articles,” supra note 1
- In the analogous situation of autobiographies, “drawing on your own knowledge to edit the Wikipedia entry about yourself violates all three of the site’s cornerstone policies.” Garfinkel, supra note 11.
- See, e.g., Robert E. Cummings, “Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?,” Inside Higher Ed, March 12, 2009, http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/03/12/cummings; Noveck, supra note 13, at 7–8 (encouraging law professors to require law students to edit law-related pages on Wikipedia). See generally “Postings to Air-L,” starting at http://listserv.aoir.org/pipermail/air-l-aoir.org/2008-November/thread.html#17511 (November 2008) (discussing assigning Wikipedia tasks to students).
- “Wikipedia: School and University Projects,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:School_and_university_projects (last visited July 18, 2009). Citizendium has launched an analogous program. See“CZ:Eduzendium,” http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:Eduzendium (last visited September 25, 2009).
- Regarding the xenophobia risk, see“User: Jbmurray/Advice,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jbmurray/Advice (last visited July 18, 2009); “Wiki-Lessons,” http://justtv.wordpress.com/2007/03/16/wiki-lessons (March 16, 2007).
- This is a variation of the memorable line “If you build it, he will come” from the movie “Field of Dreams” (Gordon Company, 1989).
- See Sunstein, supra note 4, at 195 (describing the conditions that could lead to Wikipedia’s failure); Giles, supra note 57 (quoting researcher Ed Chi as saying “It’s easy to say that Wikipedia will always be here… This research shows that is not a given.”).