Who Does What on Wikipedia?
UA Eller College MIS Professor Sudha Ram links Wikipedia contributors’ collaborative patterns to data accuracy.
TUCSON, Ariz. – March 3, 2010 – The patterns of collaboration between Wikipedia contributors have a direct effect on the data quality of an article, according to a new paper by McClelland Professor of MIS Sudha Ram and co-author Jun Liu, both of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.
Ram and Liu’s work in this area was recognized with a Best Paper Award from the Workshop on Information Technology and Systems conference held in conjunction with ICIS 2009.
“Most of the existing research on Wikipedia is at the aggregate level, looking at total number of edits for an article, for example, or how many unique contributors participated in its creation,” Ram says. “What was missing was an explanation for why some articles are of high quality and others are not. We investigated the relationship between collaboration and data quality.”
Wikipedia has an internal quality rating system for entries, with featured articles at the top, followed by A, B, and C-level entries. Ram and Liu randomly collected 400 articles at each quality level and applied a data provenance model they developed in an earlier paper.
“We used data mining techniques and identified various patterns of collaboration based on the provenance or, more specifically, who does what to Wikipedia articles,” Ram says. “These collaboration patterns either help increase quality or are detrimental to data quality.”
Ram and Liu identified seven specific roles that Wikipedia contributors play. Starters, for example, create sentences but seldom engage in other actions; content justifiers create sentences and justify them with resources and links; copy editors contribute primarily though modifying existing sentences. Some users — the all-round contributors — perform many different functions.
“We then clustered the articles based on these roles and examined the collaboration patterns within each cluster to see what kind of quality resulted,” Ram says. “We found that all-round contributors dominated the best-quality entries. In the entries with the lowest quality, starters and casual contributors dominated.”
To generate the best-quality entries, she says, people in many different roles must collaborate. Ram and Liu suggest that the results of this study should spark the design of software tools that can help improve quality.
“A software tool could prompt contributors to justify their insertions by adding links,” she says, “and down the line, other software tools could encourage specific role setting and collaboration patterns to improve overall quality.”
The impetus behind the paper came from Ram’s involvement in the University of Arizona’s $50 million iPlant Collaborative, which aims to unite the international scientific community around solving plant biology’s “grand challenge” questions.
Ram’s role as a faculty advisor is to develop a cyberinfrastructure to facilitate collaboration. “We initially suggested wikis for this, but we faced a lot of resistance,” she says. Scientists expressed concerns ranging from lack of experience using the wikis to lack of incentive. “We wondered how we could make people collaborate,” she says. “So we looked at the English version of Wikipedia. There are more than three million entries, and thousands of people contribute voluntarily on a daily basis.”
The results of this research have helped guide recommendations to the iPlant collaborators. “If we want scientists to be collaborative,” Ram says, “we need to assign them to specific roles and motivate them to police themselves and justify their contributions.”
The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is internationally recognized for pioneering research, innovative curriculum, distinguished faculty, excellence in management information systems, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller undergraduate program No. 11 among public business schools and two of its programs are among the top 20 — Entrepreneurship and MIS. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller MBA Full-Time program No. 48 in the U.S. In addition to a Full-Time MBA program, the Eller College offers the No. 25-ranked Evening MBA program, the Eller Executive MBA and the Online MBA. The Eller College of Management supports more than 5,800 undergraduate and 800 graduate students on the UA campus in beautiful Tucson, Arizona, and on its satellite campus in downtown Phoenix.
Liz Warren-Pederson, Eller College of Management
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