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By Sage Ross

Wikipedia's changing culture, and gender statistics

Following a post-Wikimania New York Times article by Noam Cohen, "Wikipedia Looks Hard at Its Culture", a number of news outlets have picked up the wide gender gap among Wikipedia editors. The gender statistics—across languages, 30% of readers and 13% of editors are female—were reported earlier this year in the preliminary results (see summary from the Wikimedia blog) of the UNU-MERIT survey; the survey results were presented (see slides) and widely discussed at Wikimania.

Following Cohen's article Howard Weaver blogged about Wikipedia and professionalism, arguing that new features to screen out "assholes" and the hiring of consultants are signs that Wikipedia is becoming more like traditional information sources. Eugene Eric Kim (User:Eekim), manager of the Strategic Planning program and one of the consultants to which Weaver refers, posted a response to Cohen's article to clarify his role and his hopes for the strategic planning process.

Coverage of the gender statistics by the Wall Street Journal Digits blog prompted more coverage and commentary from a number of other news outlets. Drawing on an essay about the gender gap in science by Philip Greenspun, Gawker suggested that rather than sexism at work, the Wikipedia gender gap is "an example of the easily conned male ego."

Although it is the best data available, the UNU-MERIT survey is far from perfect. The respondents were self-selected, and there were unexplained anomalies in response rate, including a dramatic over-representation of Russian Wikipedia users (whose responses were initially excluded from the gender statistics and other survey results and analysis).

American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine sues editors

Courthouse News Service reports that the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation and ten anonymous editors over edits made to the organization's Wikipedia article. The Wikimedia Foundation is widely thought to be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act against liability for defamatory edits made by its users (see Signpost coverage of a previous lawsuit). However, Seth Finkelstein points out that the court summons names Wikimedia "solely as a nominal Defendent", which may indicate that Wikimedia is only named so that it can be made to provide identifying information about the individual editors who allegedly defamed the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

Study: "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences"

In the draft of his forthcoming article "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences", to be published in the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law, law professor Eric Goldman explores the difficulties Wikipedia is facing, or may face in the future, in sustaining a sufficient level of volunteer maintenance effort.

Goldman's abstract states:

This Essay explains why Wikipedia will not be able to maintain a credible website while simultaneously letting anyone freely edit it. To date, Wikipedia editors have successfully defended against malicious attacks from spammers and vandals, but as editors turn over, Wikipedia will need to recruit replacements. However, Wikipedia will have difficulty with this recruiting task due to its limited incentives for participation. Faced with a potential labor squeeze, Wikipedia will choose to restrict users’ ability to contribute to the site as a way of preserving site credibility. Wikipedia’s specific configuration choices make it an interesting test case to evaluate the tension between free editability and site credibility, and this Essay touches on how this tension affects user-generated content (UGC) generally.

In the article, Goldman argues that Wikipedia's "recognition systems may prompt existing editors to work harder, but they are weakly calibrated to recruit new editors." He offers a number of possible ways Wikipedia could draw in more contributors.

As Ars Technica notes, Goldman made headlines in late 2005 when he predicted that Wikipedia would fail within 5 years, and followed up with a similar prediction in 2006. As Wikipedia scholar Joseph Reagle (User:Reagle) notes on his blog, Goldman's definition of "failure" for Wikipedia does not match up with the stated goals and core values of the project, which have always placed quality and free access to knowledge above pure openness to editing.

Goldman explains in a blog post about his new work that his current conclusion is that "substantial restrictions to user editability are Wikipedia's only viable long-term solution to preserve site credibility."


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Re the survey, The respondents were self-selected, and there were unexplained anomalies in response rate, including a dramatic over-representation of Russian Wikipedia users (whose responses were not included in the gender statistics and other survey results and analysis). -- as far as I recall from the Wikimania session, the Russian responses were initually excluded (as reported in the WMF blog), but after being scrutinised they were folded back in (as reported in the Wikimania session). --pfctdayelise (talk) 00:54, 8 September 2009 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the info. Unfortunately, the survey results session was one of the few sessions that apparently didn't get recorded (or least, there's no video available that I know of). I'm curious as to what the explanation was for the high response rate (and curious if there was much pushback from attendees in terms of the methodology and the reliability of the resulting stats).--ragesoss (talk) 01:44, 8 September 2009 (UTC)[reply]
It lead to an interesting discussion in Buenos Aires, and some flaws in the methodology emerged. The study was not preceded by sufficient focus group work or other testing to get the questions right so there were some faults in the questionnaire design, in particular the age question restricted the survey to 18-85 year olds (which could partially explain the high drop out rate - I think it was 40% who opened the survey but didn't complete it). Losing the under 18s will obviously skew the academic qualification question and probably others. Also the question as to why people edit Wikipedia didn't include the answer "for fun", and someone there from a similar mass volunteer project suggested that based on their research that would have been the dominant answer if our volunteer base was similar to theirs. The Russian data was tested and eventually incorporated because in many ways it was similar to that from other projects. I think it was this research project where they didn't separate out arts and culture from popular culture and were surprised at how much of the Wiki activity was arts and culture, whilst the feedback from the room was that excluding the under 18s had probably resulted in an under representation of the amount of pop culture editing on the pedias. They didn't seem to have done a weighting or sampling exercise to turn the survey into a representative one, though possibly this was because they wouldn't have known what to weight against... And their way to deal with vandalism was to exclude the under 18s rather than to include logic traps to identify and screen out vandal responses. But still 175,000 responses made for some interesting slides. ϢereSpielChequers 06:18, 11 September 2009 (UTC)[reply]
Hi WereSpielChequers, I read these recollections with great interest while compiling this blog post. The bit about the age restriction is contradicted by the final report though, which said that “25% are younger than 18 years old”).
@Ragesoss: A video exists, I have embedded it at the new documentation page I just started for this survey: m:Research:UNU-MERIT Wikipedia survey.
Regards, Tbayer (WMF) (talk) 09:02, 1 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Tbayer (WMF): I can't find the original survey, just the results, and six years on I am just relying on memory and what I wrote at the time. But it is entirely possible there was both the up front question that I remember restricting it to 18+ and subsequently an age question that allowed for under 18s, if so it would at least partially account for the 40% drop out figure. Especially as the peak age group was 18 (The most frequent age that can be observed within the respondents is 18 years). Whilst their admission that they discarded age outliers should be remembered when we say that the respondents ranged from 10-85 - if we repeated it now, and I hope we do, I would hope we would not assume that no-one over 85 edits. ϢereSpielChequers 09:23, 1 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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