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.
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).
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.
Here are 4 things we learned:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!):
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Siko Bouterse, Head of Individual Engagement Grants, Wikimedia Foundation
Haitham Shammaa, Contribution Research Manager, Wikimedia Foundation