Love, hate, and the Wikipedia contributor culture problem

Last fall, a group of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) released a study showing an abrupt leveling off in the number of editors and edits to Wikipedia, starting in about 2007.

There is a great summation of the findings in a set of posts by Dr. Ed H Chi, Lead Scientist at the PARC Augmented Social Cognition group here, here, here, and here.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about what might be causing the slowing rate of contributions, as have many others. I particularly liked Niel Robertson’s post last week on the Enterprise Irregulars site.

Niel’s thesis is that Wikipedia has failed to continue to develop innovative ways to motivate its community, falling behind as other communities and companies have implemented more creative new techniques. Niel goes on to identify seven types of motivation for crowdsourcing (yes, I still dislike that word) efforts, of which he says Wikipedia is only using a couple.

I think he is on to something. But Wikipedia is operating at a scale that dwarfs almost every other crowdsourcing effort in history. It takes a massive bureaucracy of editors and administrators to keep the whole thing going.

And if traditional bureaucracies (like those in governments and large companies) tend to stifle innovation, what happens in a bureaucracy where the bureaucrats aren’t getting paid and aren’t getting any recognition for their efforts?

From my point of view, this is Wikipedia’s next great challenge:

How does it convince the world to love and recognize its contributors?

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

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