6 snippets about online communities from Wikimania 2014

A couple of weeks ago I attended Wikimania 2014  – the annual event of the Wikimedia movement – at the Barbican Centre in London. As well as being a nice opportunity to join an open community event as a participant rather than an organiser, there were an enjoyable number of session focusing on online communities. Here I highlight some of the key points discussed.

i) Conflict and content quality

In the session reviewing The State of Wikimedia Scholarship from the past year, one of the papers discussed focused on the role of conflict in determining consensus on quality in wikipedia articles.

There were four main causes of conflict: sources, wording, structure and content accuracy – but conflict or “generative friction” was seen as a healthy way of maintaining the quality of articles, and didn’t tend to involve personal attacks.

Comments made on talk pages often referenced wikipedia policies directly or indirectly (86% of cases), suggesting that it’s helpful for a community to have guidelines that can be referred to and quoted to enable self-policing of behaviour.

Slides from the session here.

ii) 6 qualities of engagement metrics

Dario Taraborelli gave a great talk on using metrics to assess the health of online communities – emphasising the importance of metrics as a filter, rather than as a substitute for asking good questions in the first place. In defining what makes a good metric he listed 6 qualities.

He noted the importance of performing sensitivity analyses to determine the right time frames to monitor for each metric being observed so that the trends inferred would be meaningful. Once you’ve determined the correct metrics to measure these can then be reused across different projects e.g. different language versions of the same site.

iii) Working with communities – an engagement spectrum 

While it wasn’t a talk that I attended, I was interested in this tweet from a session about Open Authority, which mentioned a spectrum of engagement between communities and organisations (in this case cultural institutions, but this presumably holds for others too).

My interpretation of this slide is that the spectrum starts with “contributions” by community members – such as tagging and voting – which are the simplest way for individuals to add something to a project. However, this may not involve an equal relationship between the person contributing and the organisation hosting the project – the latter perhaps simply provides the platform or offers the opportunity to contribute to a feedback route, rather then engaging deeply.

The next stage, collaboration, would seem to involve more investment of time on the part of both participants in the relationship as they work towards some shared goal. Collaboration also implies more of an equal relationship, where both parties have a say.

The final stage is co-creating, a word that I’ve noticed has become increasingly popular recently. My understanding is that it involves the organisation acknowledging that the community may have expertise that they lack. By working together on a project something new will be created that perhaps cannot be described in detail in advance. There are therefore higher levels of trust and communication involved.

iv) Graded entry as a route to longer-term commitment?

Wikipedia has an option for users to edit articles anonymously i.e. without registering for an account. There are many more unique IP addresses for wikipedia users than there are registered users, so anonymous editing is assumed to make up a significant proportion of the contributions to the site – and almost 60% of editors are believed to have started using the site anonymously first.

However, once users decide to register, they are more likely to be productive editors. This suggests offering users a “lite” way of becoming familiar with a community before making a commitment may help to create a more committed core community once they do sign up more fully.

Session notes.

v) The role of reciprocity 


This session on collaboration in a peer-production economy looked at experiments to determine social motivations to contribute to wikipedia. The other interesting observation was that those admins who had less trust in other users were more likely to participate in policing activities such as blocking users and deleting content.


vi) Proactivity beats prohibition for promoting positive behaviour



The session discussing whether there was a place for paid editing on wikipedia (e.g. by PR professionals posting updates about companies) looked at how to deal with potential conflicts of interests – acknowledging that outright banning of these contributors was not a workable solution. Instead, steps have been taken to create best practice guidelines and educate contributors about what the appropriate behaviour is – such as declaring any conflicts of interests on the talk pages of articles.


One thought on “6 snippets about online communities from Wikimania 2014

  1. Pingback: 2014 in blog posts | Social in silico

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