The Wikipedia community is the community of contributors who create and maintain the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Individual contributors are known as "Wikipedians". OxfordDictionaries.com added the word "Wikipedian" in August 2012.
Almost all Wikipedians are volunteers. With the increased maturity and visibility of Wikipedia, other categories of Wikipedians have emerged, such as Wikipedians in residence and students with assignments related to editing Wikipedia.
Studies of the Wikipedia community's size showed an exponential growth in the number of contributors during the early years. In April 2008, writer and lecturer Clay Shirky and computer scientist Martin Wattenberg estimated the total time spent creating Wikipedia at roughly 100 million hours. In November 2011, there were approximately 31.7 million registered user accounts across all language editions, of which around 270,000 were "active" (made at least one edit every month).
The English Wikipedia, the largest language edition, as of September 2020 had 132,360 editors who have performed an edit in the last 30 days ("active users"), and an unknown number of contributors without an account. About half the active editors spend at least one hour a day editing, and a fifth spend more than three hours a day.
One study found that the contributor base to Wikipedia "was barely 13% women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s". A 2011 study by researchers from the University of Minnesota found that females comprised 16.1% of the 38,497 editors who started editing Wikipedia during 2009. In a January 2011 New York Times article, Noam Cohen observed that just 13% of Wikipedia's contributors are female according to a 2008 Wikimedia Foundation survey. Sue Gardner, a former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, hoped to see female contributions increase to 25% by 2015. Linda Basch, president of the National Council for Research on Women, noted the contrast in these Wikipedia editor statistics with the percentage of women currently completing bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and PhD programs in the United States (all at rates of 50 percent or greater).
In response, various universities have hosted edit-a-thons to encourage more women to participate in the Wikipedia community. In fall 2013, 15 colleges and universities — including Yale, Brown, and Pennsylvania State — offered college credit for students to "write feminist thinking" about technology into Wikipedia. A 2008 self-selected survey of the diversity of contributors by highest educational degree indicated that sixty-two percent of responding Wikipedia editors had attained either a high school or undergraduate college education.
In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said in a BBC interview that the Wikimedia Foundation was "... really doubling down our efforts ..." to reach 25% of female editors (originally targeted by 2015), since the Foundation had "totally failed" so far. Wales said "a lot of things need to happen ... a lot of outreach, a lot of software changes". Andrew Lih, writing in The New York Times, was quoted by Bloomberg News in December 2016 as supporting Wales's comments concerning shortfalls in Wikipedia's outreach to female editors. Lih states his concern with the question indicating that: "How can you get people to participate in an [editing] environment that feels unsafe, where identifying yourself as a woman, as a feminist, could open you up to ugly, intimidating behavior".
Various studies have been done with regard to the motivations of Wikipedia contributors. In a 2003 study of Wikipedia as a community, economics Ph.D. student Andrea Ciffolilli argued that the low transaction costs of participating in wiki software create a catalyst for collaborative development, and that a "creative construction" approach encourages participation. A paper written by Andrea Forte and Amy Bruckman in 2005, called "Why Do People Write for Wikipedia? Incentives to Contribute to Open-Content Publishing", discussed the possible motivations of Wikipedia contributors. It applied Latour and Woolgar's concept of the cycle of credit to Wikipedia contributors, suggesting that the reason that people write for Wikipedia is to gain recognition within the community.
Oded Nov, in his 2007 paper "What Motivates Wikipedians", related the motivations of volunteers in general to the motivations of people who contribute to Wikipedia. Nov carried out a survey using the six motivations of volunteers, identified in an earlier paper. The six motivations he used were:
- Values – expressing values to do with altruism and helping others
- Social – engaging with friends, taking part in activities viewed favourably by others
- Understanding – expanding knowledge through activities
- Career – gaining work experience and skills
- Protective – e.g., reducing guilt over personal privilege
- Enhancement – demonstrating knowledge to others
To these six motivations he also added:
- Ideology – expressing support for what is perceived to be the underlying ideology of the activity (e.g., the belief that knowledge should be free)
- Fun – enjoying the activity
The survey found that the most commonly indicated motives were "fun", "ideology", and "values", whereas the least frequently indicated motives were "career", "social", and "protective".
The Wikimedia Foundation has carried out several surveys of Wikipedia contributors and users. In 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation, alongside the Collaborative Creativity Group at UNU-Merit, launched a survey of readers and editors of Wikipedia. It was the most comprehensive survey of Wikipedia ever conducted. The results of the survey were published two years later on March 24, 2010. The Wikimedia Foundation began a process in 2011 of semi-annual surveys in order to understand Wikipedia editors more and better cater to their needs.
"Motivations of Wikipedia Content Contributors", a paper by Heng-Li Yang and Cheng-Yu Lai, hypothesised that, because contributing to Wikipedia is voluntary, an individual's enjoyment of participating would be the highest motivator. However, their study showed that although people might initially start editing Wikipedia out of enjoyment, the most likely motivation for continuing to participate is self-concept based motivations such as "I like to share knowledge which gives me a sense of personal achievement."
A further study in 2014 by Cheng-Yu Lai and Heng-Li Yang explored the reasons why people continue editing Wikipedia content. The study used authors of the English-language version of the site and received 288 valid online survey responses. Their results indicated and confirmed that subjective task value, commitment, and procedural justice were significant to satisfaction of Wikipedians; and satisfaction significantly influenced an author's continued intention to edit Wikipedia content.
Editors of Wikipedia have occasionally given personal testimonials of why they contribute to Wikipedia. A common theme of these testimonials is the enjoyment that editors seem to get from contributing to Wikipedia and being part of the Wikipedia community. Also mentioned is the potential addictive quality of editing Wikipedia. Gina Trapani of Lifehacker said "it turns out editing an article isn't scary at all. It's easy, surprisingly satisfying and can become obsessively addictive." Jimmy Wales has also commented on the addictive quality of Wikipedia, saying "The main thing about Wikipedia ... is that it’s fun and addictive". Wikipedians sometimes award one another "barnstars" for good work. These personalized tokens of appreciation reveal a wide range of valued work extending far beyond simple editing to include social support, administrative actions, and types of articulation work. The barnstar phenomenon has been analyzed by researchers seeking to determine what implications it might have for other communities engaged in large-scale collaborations.
Wikipedia has spawned several community news publications. An online newsletter, The Signpost, has been published since January 10, 2005. Professional cartoonist Greg Williams created a webcomic called WikiWorld which ran in The Signpost from 2006 to 2008. A podcast called Wikipedia Weekly was active from 2006 to 2009 and sporadically thereafter, while a series of conference calls titled "Not the Wikipedia Weekly" ran from 2008 to 2009. Some topic-specific communities within Wikipedia called "WikiProjects" have also distributed newsletters and other correspondence.
Offline activities are organized by the Wikimedia Foundation or the community of Wikipedia.
Wikimania is an annual international conference for users of the wiki projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation (such as Wikipedia and other sister projects). Topics of presentations and discussions include Wikimedia Foundation projects, other wikis, open-source software, free knowledge and free content, and the different social and technical aspects which relate to these topics.
The annual Great American Wiknic is a social gathering that takes place in major cities of the United States each year during the summer, usually just prior to the 4th of July. The Wiknic concept allows Wikipedians to bring together picnic food and to interact in a personal way.
There is also a yearly WikiConference North America.
Wikipedia has been subject to several kinds of criticism. For example, the Seigenthaler and Essjay incidents caused criticism of Wikipedia's reliability and usefulness as a reference. The complaints related to the community include the effects of users' anonymity, the attitudes towards newcomers, the abuse of privileges by administrators, biases in the social structure of the community, in particular, gender bias and lack of female contributors, and the role of the project's co-founder Jimmy Wales, in the community. A significant controversy was stirred with paid contributors to Wikipedia, which prompted the Wikimedia Foundation to send a cease and desist letter to the Wiki-PR agency. Wikipedia relies on the efforts of its community members to remove vandalism from articles.
Wikipedia's co-founder Larry Sanger, who later founded Citizendium — a rival project — characterized the Wikipedia community in 2007 as ineffective and abusive, stating that "The community does not enforce its own rules effectively or consistently. Consequently, administrators and ordinary participants alike are able essentially to act abusively with impunity, which begets a never-ending cycle of abuse." Oliver Kamm, of The Times, expressed skepticism toward Wikipedia's reliance on consensus in forming its content: "Wikipedia seeks not truth but consensus, and like an interminable political meeting the end result will be dominated by the loudest and most persistent voices."
The 2015 Erasmus Prize was awarded to the Wikipedia community for "[promoting] the dissemination of knowledge through a comprehensive and universally accessible encyclopedia. To achieve that, the initiators of Wikipedia have designed a new and effective democratic platform. The prize specifically recognizes Wikipedia as a community — a shared project that involves tens of thousands of volunteers around the world."
On the other hand, Wikipedia policy states that it is not a democracy.
- Wikipedia:Administration – an internal Wikipedia page about the administrative structure of Wikipedia
- Wikipedia:The community – an internal Wikipedia page about the term
- Wikipedia:Meetup – regular (or more spontaneous) face-to-face meetings of Wikipedians
- Wikimedia movement - a broader movement of free knowledge creators and maintainers
- List of Wikipedia people
- Wikimedian of the Year
- Listen to Wikipedia
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- "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia? – Room for Debate". NYTimes.com. February 2, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
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