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Improving Wikipedia with friendly competition

WikiCup image

Wikipedia editors are hardworking volunteers who have created the most extraordinary knowledge resource in history. Many contributors have made tens of thousands of edits. Some have made hundreds of thousands. But sometimes, even the most seasoned editor could do with a bit of motivation.

The WikiCup is one such source of motivation, a friendly editing competition developed by the volunteer community with the goal to improve content and make editing more fun.

The Cup runs annually from January to October, with five rounds of elimination. Points are awarded each round for contributing different types of content, including Featured Articles (FAs), Good Articles (GAs), Did You Know’s (DYKs) and Featured Lists, among other article quality categories. Administration of the event is handled by judges, who also resolve disputes and review talk page discussions. This year’s judges are Josh Milburn (User:J Milburn) and Eddie Erhart (User:The ed17), both of whom started judging in 2009.

While a lot of WikiCup contestants are already prolific editors, Erhart believes the competition is still very effective in driving content creation. “[I enjoy] seeing these editors go out and add boatloads of content to the encyclopedia,” he said. “Many would have been doing this anyway, but the Cup provides an incentive for them to do more. I think the idea of a competition is a strong motivating factor to go out and improve content.”

In this year’s WikiCup, Stefano Magliocco (User:Grapple X) led the first two rounds mostly thanks to his GAs about The X-Files and Millenium television series. He says he initially entered the Cup as a means to keep himself motivated. “I had a lot of stuff planned, but I usually find myself losing focus on things over time,” said Magliocco. “I’ve been doing a lot of work for The X-Files WikiProject, and I had planned out a lot of long-term projects. The Cup seemed like a good means of lighting a fire under my arse to get these done.”

Since Magliocco has entered the Cup, he has noticed an increase in not only the quantity, but also the quality of his contributions. “I’ve generally had a strong burst of activity at the start of each round, where my normal work rate doubles or triples,” he said. “From there, it’s really just a case of the Cup motivating me to edit better, rather than more.”

Magliocco feels that encouraging the creation of GAs is one of the main ways the WikiCup accomplishes its stated mission of improving content on Wikipedia. “I think the level of investment versus reward given for the promotion of GAs has definitely helped the project as a whole,” said Magliocco, who likes to keep track of the ratio of GAs to total articles. “At the minute, about 1 in 275 articles are of GA status, whereas it was 1 in 280 at the start of the Cup.”

Last year’s WikiCup winner, Andrew Hink (User:Hurricanehink), agreed that increasing the number of GAs is an important step in improving the quality of Wikipedia. “I think [having 500,000 GAs] is very much in the realm of possibility in the next 10 years,” he said. “As long as it’s all well-cited, all well-written, that’s a good goal to have, and it’s very doable.”

WikiCup 2011 winner Andrew Hink, playing piano

In addition to improving the quality of content on Wikipedia, the WikiCup can also help foster a sense of community between editors who might not otherwise collaborate.

“I usually stay rather insular inside the Hurricane Project,” said Hink, “so it was good to meet people outside the Project. It sometimes seems like I’m sort of in the minority — a lot of other people in Wikipedia are reviewers, administrators, vandalism fighters — it was good to see how many writers there are out there.”

Hink felt that projects like the WikiCup create a positive feedback loop for editors. “It seems like anytime someone makes a new article, someone else is like, ‘Oh yeah, I feel like writing again!’” said Hink. “When you see that people are editing, are working, are making good articles, it’s really encouraging. It’s a self-sustaining cycle.”

Despite these benefits, the WikiCup also receives its share of criticism, with some critics even calling for the Cup to be shut down. According to Erhart, the WikiCup has encountered problems with the featured article candidate (FAC) review process and the Did You Know (DYK) process. “People at FAC believed that editors motivated by the Cup were disregarding the instructions and nominating unprepared articles, while DYK was being flooded by large amounts of articles nominated by Cup participants,” said Erhart. “I have sympathy for both sides, but I think that the positive effects of the Cup outweigh both.”

According to Milburn, the Cup has evolved considerably since it was founded in 2007 (by User:Finns). It originally started as a “‘who can get the most edits’ challenge,” said Milburn, but it gradually shifted toward a greater focus on audited content. This year, the scoring system was adjusted to incentivize working on articles that feature on non-English Wikipedias, partially in response to the concern that the WikiCup encouraged participants to work on trivial articles rather than highly important ones. Milburn anticipates that in the future, there may be changes to the scoring system which will further motivate collaboration, encourage contribution to review processes, and offer bonus points for countering systemic bias.

Both Erhart and Milburn have seen the project grow considerably since they started, with 113 contestants in 2012 versus only 60 in 2009, their first year judging. Milburn is pleased that the Cup has been able to maintain such high levels of participation, since, he said, many of the more “social” projects on Wikipedia have a tendency to die down.

“The WikiCup alone cannot solve any of Wikipedia’s recurring problems, [like making] Wikipedia respected in academia,” said Milburn. “It can make contributing to the project a little more rewarding and enjoyable, and it can offer a reason to tick something off your to-do list today, rather than ‘at some point soon.’ As a project written by volunteers, this is, surely, a good thing.”

Story and reporting by Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

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