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What we learned from the English Wikipedia new editor pilot in the Philippines

English Wikipedia’s contributors are scattered across the globe, and this diversity of geographic representation gives us hope that we’ll someday fully realize our vision of making the sum of all human knowledge available to everyone.

People from some regions are editing the encyclopedia more than others, however. The majority of editors to English Wikipedia today are from Europe, North America and Australia. Contributors in Anglophone Global South countries like India, Kenya, and the Philippines are underrepresented, compared to the total number of English speakers and English Wikipedia page views from these countries. Looking for simple ways we might boost contributions from a country like the Philippines, a small team of staff from the Wikimedia Foundation’s Grantmaking and Learning group recently decided to run an experiment to attract new editors.

The pilot was not a success – there are no more active editors from the Philippines than when we started – but the team learned several things that may be useful for future experiments. In the spirit of fearless (and humanly imperfect, and interesting) experimentation, and because we think that there is just as much value in talking about what doesn’t work as what does, we offer here some highlights of what we learned.

Banner aimed at readers from the Philippines

Philippines pilot landing page, getting started with articles

The team selected the Philippines for this pilot because English education is high and there is a large readership of English Wikipedia (93,200 page views/hour) compared to other language versions. Editors from the region are underrepresented on English Wikipedia (less than 400 active editors/month). We also picked it because we understand that online communities tend to grow best when they can build upon themselves, with new people being supported by experienced editors, and English Wikipedia already has a small but active community of editors from the Philippines to build upon, including a WikiProject Tambayan Philippines.

The team started with some background research: A quick survey of readers from the Philippines showed that 81 percent of readers know that they can edit Wikipedia; 86 percent rate their English proficiency to be more than “good,” but only 36 percent of readers had actually attempted to edit Wikipedia. The most common reason given for not editing was that they didn’t know what to edit (38 percent) and the most common request for support given was having specific, easy tasks to do on Wikipedia (63 percent).

Philippines pilot landing page, getting started with user page

Based on this, we hypothesized that having a call to action that asked people in the Philippines to help improve content related to their country might encourage more editing. We ran banners encouraging Filipino readers to get involved by creating an account and a user page identifying themselves as part of the project. We then directed them to a list of stubs (short articles in need of more information) on various topics related to the Philippines that had been collected by WikiProject Tambayan Philippines. For new editors in need of extra support, we offered links to Wikipedia’s help documentation and to the Teahouse, but we otherwise did not interfere with the standard new-editor experience on Wikipedia.

Geo-targeted article suggestions

Philippines pilot userbox

Here are 4 things we learned:

  1. Inviting contributions to a low-risk space (in this case, the user’s own page) and surfacing a simple task (creating a page about yourself) with good step-by-step instructions did encourage people to edit. Out of each five visitors to the landing page, approximately one user added the userbox to their user page. If our goal were to get users to create their own page and add a user-box, this would have been success.
  2. Inviting contribution by surfacing geo-targeted article stubs was not enough to motivate or help users to make their first edits to an article. Together, all new editors who joined made only six edits in total to the article space during this experiment, and they made no edits to the articles we suggested. This was true even when we removed the user-box creation task from the workflow, and gave users the article-editing task first. Unlike for the user page creation task, we gave no special step-by-step instructions for how to make edits to the suggested articles, and it may be that the Wikipedia interface for adding article content was simply too large of a barrier.
  3. Providing suggestions via links to places users might go for help did not appear to sufficiently support or motivate these new editors to get involved. 50 percent of those surveyed later said they didn’t look for help pages. Those who did view help pages nevertheless did not edit the suggested articles. It is possible that the calls to action to get editing help weren’t strong enough, or it may be that these help systems weren’t targeted enough to meet the needs of this pilot group.
  4. WikiProjects can be great sources of curated content – the WikiProject that we selected for this pilot had a fruitful list of stubs. Pulling from that list was easy to do and gave us a lot of topic choices to serve new editors. Thank you WikiProject Tambayan Philippines!

Here are three things we might do differently in future experiments (and so can you!):

  1. WikiProjects can be great sources of social support for editors. For this pilot, we provided links to the Teahouse and help documentation and expected new editors to actively reach for help. This did not result in successful edits or interactions (that we saw). If we were to do this project in the future, we might next try setting up a clearer framework to engage new editors in discussion with existing editors from the WikiProject. This would require having enough active editors in the WikiProject interested in onboarding new editors to work on the topics, and using calls to actions to set clear expectations for engagement between new and existing editors.
  2. Suggesting articles for expansion can be a daunting first task for a contributor. Perhaps trying a pilot with a simpler task, like copy-editing, would be a good test for the future (in a similar manner to this project).
  3. While this experiment was not successful in recruiting new editors to English Wikipedia, it may yet be interesting to explore something similar in the context of smaller or younger Wikipedias. No special tools are needed to design or run experiments like this, any volunteer can setup their own experiment along these lines.

Are you running an experiment, or do you have an idea for one? We would love to hear about the results, positive or negative, and what you learned!

Siko Bouterse, Head of Individual Engagement Grants, Wikimedia Foundation
Haitham Shammaa, Contribution Research Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

13 Responses to “What we learned from the English Wikipedia new editor pilot in the Philippines”

  1. Seb35 says:

    Related to learning #2; in the Wikimedia world and projects I have the feeling that, generally speaking, people never do what they are supposed to do; perhaps this fact should be taken into account in a way or another (open and vague question).

    About the labor intensiveness of the IRL training, I find it is worth trying also because there is, as said, a higher retention rate but also, I think, a higher dissemination rate. Though I have no idea about a meaningful comparison of the active and passive supports.

    Else, given the current Wikipedians come from the “long tail” of the readers, I wonder if some can be done in a super-soft way to encourage the very few potential Wikipedians, like enlighten the wikiprojects, stubs, invitation to contribute, etc. (e.g. a micro-proposal on the page bottom of a stub in the same category).

  2. PHL says:

    Wikipedia editions in other Philippine languages are still underrepresented and lacking enough articles. I suggest recruiting more Wikipedia editors residing in any Philippine province.

  3. S Page says:

    Thanks for the interesting report.

    Were the Philippines new users presented with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:GettingStarted ? The latest iteration of that offers users who’ve just created an account a selection of articles to edit and a [Show Help] button that pops up a guided tour. It offers easy editing tasks, but maybe now that the Visual Editor is launched, offering a more complex article as a first edit that is related to the project’s area of interest might be doable.

    There’s surely some customization of some combination of the initial welcome page, the early editing tasks, the new user notifications, the guided help, etc. that would work better for a particular project’s users than the standard Getting Started experience, but nobody knows what it is.

  4. Jumar says:

    Well said, Nap. I agree with the points you raised. I was also thinking why the project failed, and I think what you said simply explains the most important factors.

  5. Andrej says:

    What I would do is at least two or three joint sessions which would form the basis for editing and navigation, which would then be used for on-line and phone support.
    These meetings require: at least 2 students and 1 support team for population not skilled in computers (usually 45+) and 4:1 with younger/skilful.
    Usual gain of long-time co workers is still then 5-10%, not more.

    Any hint how hackathlons are organised? I will probably be involved in one, but I am a little bit sceptic based on above… I might organise my version ;)

    And… I would never dare to go on mass attraction with foreign language. At least not in Slovenia.

  6. Siko Bouterse says:

    Matthew and Nap – these are really interesting thoughts you raise around Tagalog Wikipedia, and Filipino context/motivations. I think that Tagalog Wikipedia is also ripe for experimentation, but our aim here was English Wikipedia because we’ve found from talking to folks in countries like the Philippines ourselves, as well as from Wikipedia ethnographers and from looking at reader numbers, that getting involved with English Wikipedia is of wider interest than you might expect – local languages are important, but where English is widely taught and used alongside a local language, only focusing on the local language may not make as much sense as we’d imagined in past years. As you say, Nap, English Wikipedia’s popularity – the promise of a large audience, seeing impact on the wiki you read everyday – can motivate people to write in ways that wikis with smaller readership may not yet. Regardless, though, there seems to be room for further experimentation in both areas!

  7. Siko Bouterse says:

    Thanks for these comments, super interesting! I think a key issue when it comes to new editor support that we have to think about is scalability and persistence over time. Andrej and Craig, I agree with you guys that face-to-face can be helpful for new folks. On the other hand, I think what we’ve seen from the data so far is that face-to-face outreach has its own drawbacks, namely as you say 1) labor intensiveness (it takes a lot of work/time/effort to do 1:1 in-person outreach) and 2) some online follow-up systems still seem to be needed to retain people over time…if you look at new editors who get engaged via an in-person edit-a-thon, for example, most of those people don’t keep editing alone at home later (if people have evidence to the contrary, I would love to see it!). And then 3) scalability – when the model is face-to-face, it is easy to think about supporting 10 editors, but more difficult to think about supporting thousands. I’d like us to keep experimenting with models for “active” support that scale and include an online component. Projects like the Teahouse are one step in that direction, but I suspect there are others that we’ve not found or perfected yet. Curious to hear more as everyone keeps trying new things!

  8. Very interesting, and thank you for sharing your insights. I would concur with Andrej above, our experience running new editor outreach programmes at Wikimedia Australia has shown that persona, face-to-face communication increases the retention rate, and that “active” support for new editors is far more successful than “passive” support as this programme attempted (while acknowledging that providing “active” support is far more labour intensive). I’m glad to see that the work that the Foundation is doing is leading towards those same conclusions.

  9. Andrej says:

    Have you been runing face2face meeting or only e-mail? According to my experience, guiding new editors requires personal contact and mentorship from persons who are to some degree (not too much) skilfull in Wiki, know something about social behaviour and are good motivators. Also, I learned that such persons all-in-one are hard to find, but this doesn’t apply to Wikipedia only…

  10. Nap says:

    Thank you for publishing the lesson learned from the pilot. As a Filipino, Here are my comments on the study results.

    I think the success rate could be attributed to the socio-economic structure of the Philippines. As my professor said, third world country are more of consumer of technology rather than creator of technology. Which may also mean third world country tend to consume knowledge rather than create knowledge. Although in wikipedia you do not do original research but write about other people’s work, writing a wiki is some form of creating knowledge too.

    Most intellectuals are already working abroad or had migrated abroad. For example for geographical places articles in the Philippines, they may tend to write articles where they live which is abroad. This is not the whole case but a factor.

    Plus, third world country people have less time to spare for creating topics since they have no financial incentive. This is not to belittle third world people to say they do not want to share knowledge but just want to get knowledge. I think they want to share knowledge but creating a Wiki article does take time.

    Also about the coverage of Tagalog, if you see the statistics on Tagalog the number of articles are quite low. My theory is the Filipinos would rather create Filipino subject wiki articles in English first because it would be useful to other people rather than creating Tagalog which can only be readable to people who speak tagalog only. One Philippine dialet, (Waray-waray) has more article than the tagalog wiki even if Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines.

  11. Matthew Flaschen says:

    This was a very interesting trial, particularly the geo-suggestions.

    Did you consider involving Tagalog Wikipedia? If not, why not (developer knowlege of the language?)? How is proficiency in Tagalog among Phillipine Internet users?

    In some cases, people may find it much easier to read in a second language than to write.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tagalog_Wikipedia#Coverage says it has fairly good Phillipine coverage (I have not attempted to confirm this).

  12. Sj says:

    Brilliant. Please share more posts like this!

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