North view of the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by DXR, CC BY-SA 4.0.

At libraries across the Czech Republic, senior citizens routinely gather for courses to learn how to edit Wikipedia. After the course ends, many seniors then go onto edit at Klub Wikipedia, gatherings across the country where people socialize and help each other edit the encyclopedia.

It was at one of these gatherings, at the Moravian Library in Brno, that Lenka first learned to edit Wikipedia. Lenka, a customer assistant, spent her time at the library practicing in her sandbox and creating an article on the Czech Wikipedia about a Hindi movie she likes.

Lenka may not continue to edit Wikipedia, but we learned a lot from her: how she’s a voracious learner who calls knowledge “the most luxurious good”; how she’s written hundreds of reviews on TripAdvisor, enjoying the chance to practice her English and connect with tourists who read her reviews; and how she struggles to access Wikipedia’s discussion pages.

Lenka was interviewed this past June as part of the New Editor Experiences project, an effort to learn more about the behaviors, motivations, and pathways of newcomers to Wikipedia.

From May to July 2017, researchers from the Wikimedia Foundation, local researchers from each country, and researchers from the design firm Reboot conducted in-person interviews with 64 new and experienced editors in South Korea and the Czech Republic. The Czech and Korean Wikipedias were chosen to represent mid-sized wikis in this research, after consulting with people both inside and outside of the Foundation.

The goal of the research project was to learn more about:

  • The background, motivations, and experiences of new editors
  • How perceptions​ ​of​ ​and​ ​engagement​ ​with​ ​Wikipedia​ impact their contribution in individual instances and over time.
  • How Wikipedia’s​ product​ functionalities​ ​and​ ​community​ support or inhibit their contribution.

The need for this kind of research is clear: We know that productive new editors from diverse backgrounds help sustain the Wikimedia projects and increase their quality and balance. However, for nearly a decade, the size of the contributor community has stagnated as it has struggled to attract and retain new editors.

Learning more about new editors, and what motivates them to either continue or stop contributing, has been a focus of many members of the Wikimedia movement for some time now. Much of the previous research has been done to learn about the larger Wikipedias, like English, French and German Wikipedias. The New Editor Experiences project continues these efforts, focusing specifically on new editor recruitment and retention in mid sized wikis.

A complete report with detailed findings about the project methodology and research findings is available. Key findings include:

  • People edit Wikipedia for diverse reasons, most of which serve purposes beyond editing Wikipedia.
  • Wikipedia’s prominence is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness for attracting and retaining new editors.
  • Inspiring, trusted, and well-connected intermediaries are a critical asset in recruiting and supporting new editors.
  • As readers, many editors see the Korean and Czech Wikipedia as limited, and seamlessly supplement their information with more comprehensive or deep sources. This means that as editors, they are less likely to contribute to those Wikipedias because the content gap that needs to be filled feels too large. This perception creates a vicious cycle that prevents medium-sized wikis from reaching a critical mass of value.
  • The complexity and separation of how Wikipedia is made, and the community behind it, make it difficult to convert readers to editors, and new editors to experienced editors.
  • People must be confident in their content knowledge to edit Wikipedia.
  • Successful editors tend to build their ‘contribution skills’ through iterative, progressive learning in safe spaces where the stakes are lower.
  • New editors’ greatest challenges are not technical but conceptual. They struggle to learn Wikipedia’s policies and how to shape content “the Wikipedia way”.
  • Editing processes and the mechanisms that support them (e.g. communication with other editors, help pages) are not intuitive or discov7erable, making it difficult for new editors to learn and progress.
  • New editors go outside Wikipedia for help because they prefer targeted, and sometimes personal, support.
  • The way in which a piece of feedback is framed is critical to whether it encourages new editors to continue the Wikipedia journey or disempowers and discourages them from further contributions.

In addition, the researchers distilled the different patterns of motivation and behavior they observed among the 47 new editors into six archetypes (know to user researchers as personas). These personas ranged from the “reactive corrector” who fixes obvious errors they observe while browsing Wikipedia to the “social changer” who begins editing out a desire to fix a problem they see in society as a whole.

This project isn’t ending with the publication of a report. Now, 17 staff members from 7 teams across the Wikimedia Foundation are working together in a series of workshops. These workshops are designed to:

  • Guide the teams to collectively prioritize which of the 11 findings to address together
  • Brainstorm new projects for better attracting and retaining new editors in mid-sized Wikipedias (specifically, Czech and Korean Wikipedias)
  • Collectively evaluate all the ideas that are developed to determine which are the highest priority to try out

As part of this process, the Foundation is hiring ambassadors from the Czech and Korean communities to learn in detail what those communities think about the findings in the report and what ideas they have for addressing them.

After the workshops produce a shared strategy, the teams involved will work in partnership with the Czech and Korean communities to make these ideas a reality. In particular, the Contributors team at the Foundation plans to build on this research with product development work in the current fiscal year, as part of their annual plan. If you’re like to learn more about this work, please use the talk page on the New Editor Experiences page or contact Neil Patel Quinn and Abbey Ripstra directly.

Abbey Ripstra, Lead Design Research Manager, Audiences
Neil Quinn, Product Analyst, Audiences
Wikimedia Foundation