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An understanding of participation dynamics within online production communities requires an examination of the roles assumed by participants. Recent studies have established that the organizational structure of such communities is not flat; rather, participants can take on a variety of well-defined functional roles. What is the nature of functional roles? How have they evolved? And how do participants assume these functions? Prior studies focused primarily on participants' activities, rather than functional roles. Further, extant conceptualizations of role transitions in production communities, such as the Reader to Leader framework, emphasize a single dimension: organizational power, overlooking distinctions between functions. In contrast, in this paper we empirically study the nature and structure of functional roles within Wikipedia, seeking to validate existing theoretical frameworks. The analysis sheds new light on the nature of functional roles, revealing the intricate "career paths" resulting from participants' role transitions.
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Functional Roles and Career Paths in Wikipedia
Ofer Arazy
University of Alberta
University of Haifa
ofer.arazy@gmail.com
Felipe Ortega
University Rey Juan
Carlos
felipe.ortega@urjc.es
Oded Nov
New York
University
onov@nyu.edu
Lisa Yeo
Loyola University
Maryland
mlyeo@loyola.edu
Adam Balila
University of Haifa
adambalila@hotmail.com
ABSTRACT
An understanding of participation dynamics within online
production communities requires an examination of the
roles assumed by participants. Recent studies have
established that the organizational structure of such
communities is not flat; rather, participants can take on a
variety of well-defined functional roles. What is the nature
of functional roles? How have they evolved? And how do
participants assume these functions? Prior studies focused
primarily on participants’ activities, rather than functional
roles. Further, extant conceptualizations of role transitions
in production communities, such as the Reader to Leader
framework, emphasize a single dimension: organizational
power, overlooking distinctions between functions. In
contrast, in this paper we empirically study the nature and
structure of functional roles within Wikipedia, seeking to
validate existing theoretical frameworks. The analysis sheds
new light on the nature of functional roles, revealing the
intricate “career paths” resulting from participants’ role
transitions.
Author Keywords
Peer-production; Wikipedia; organizational structure;
functional roles; role transitions.
INTRODUCTION
Recent years have seen the emergence of a community-
based model for the production of knowledge-based goods
such as Wikipedia and open-source software [44]. As
participants become more involved in their projects and
gain the community’s trust, they gradually move from the
periphery to the community core, gaining access to more
sensitive and influential decisions [1].
The problem of motivation for participation in peer
production communities has attracted significant attention
at the academic community, and numerous studies have
discussed the various motives driving volunteers to
contribute their time, effort, and expertise. Less is known,
however, about how these volunteers sustain and increase
their participation, take on additional responsibilities, and
become involved in the project’s administration. Although
on the surface peer production projects may be thought to
be non-hierarchical, in reality a core group of leaders
usually emerges (often through formal election processes)
to provide centralized coordination, manage quality control
processes, mediate conflicts, and develop organizational
policies [4, 16, 43].
Online production communities are characterized by a core-
periphery structure, where the majority of contributors are
involved in few tasks and participate at the community’s
periphery, while a relatively small portion of contributors
take on additional responsibilities and constitute the core
[12, 14, 20, 24, 30]. The core-periphery conceptualization
concentrates on participants’ power (or authority) within
the community, emphasizing lateral movements from the
community’s fringes to positions of responsibility and
influence [56]. Prior works in the area have tried to model
the process of transitioning from the community’s
periphery to the core. For example, the ‘Reader to Leader’
(R2L) framework [48] attempted to synthesize these earlier
works and provide a comprehensive conceptualization on
the successive steps volunteers take on their way to
community leadership. According to this framework, while
the main path from the periphery to the core leads through
these successive stages, alternative routes are possible,
including those representing attrition (i.e. transitions from
the core to the periphery). Notwithstanding the importance
of organizational power in characterizing the composition
of online communities, this conceptualization overlooks
other important dimensions, such as the functional
organization of community work. Thus, extant
conceptualization lack the capacity to distinguish between
different functions situated at the same level of the
organizational structure. Traditional organizations are
characterized by a functional organization, dividing work
between departments such as: Finance, Operations,
Marketing, etc., and the functional organization is at the
core of scholarly literature on management and
organizations [40]. However, the study of functional roles
has been largely absent from the literature on online
communities.
Therefore, the objective of this study is to investigate the
functional organization of online production communities:
the nature of functional roles and the way in which these
roles are traversed when participants move from the
periphery to leadership positions. In part, our study could
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675257
be viewed as an empirical investigation of existing
conceptualizations of emergent leadership, namely the
Reader-to-Leader (R2L) framework [48]. Despite the
significant attention that the R2L framework has received
within the research community, to date, this framework has
not been empirically evaluated. In fact, Preece and
Shneiderman [48] acknowledge that “Even though our
[R2L] framework and discussion of its components are
supported by research, the framework needs empirical
testing, which is an obvious next stage of this work” (p. 24).
The setting for our study is Wikipedia, one of the most
notable examples of peer production [9]. Wikipedia was
able to recruit thousands of volunteers to produce millions
of encyclopedic entries in 287 languages, and develop
extensive policies and mechanisms for governing its
collaborative authoring process. Wikipedia’s success
attracted the attention of scholars, who investigated
Wikipedia’s organizational model [4, 24, 49]. Our research
methodology employs publicly available Wikipedia system
logs to identify participants’ access privileges. It builds on
the framework from [3] to map access privileges onto
organization roles, and analyzes role transition for a large
sample of Wikipedia contributors. In addition, we perform a
qualitative analysis of a selected subset of editors, adding
depth and context to the quantitative data analysis.
Hence, the goal of this study is to address the following
research questions:
RQ1: How are the functional roles of Wikipedia
characterized and what activity profile is associated with
each role?
RQ2: How has Wikipedia’s functional composition evolved
over time?
RQ3: How do contributors to Wikipedia transition between
roles on the path from community’s periphery to the core?
Our investigation yields important insights about the routes
to leadership in peer production projects, inform extant
theory in this area, and offers guidelines to designers and
custodians of online communities.
SOCIAL ROLES AND ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
The concept of social role has been the subject of extensive
analysis in sociology [10]. Social roles encapsulate the
social context, history of actions, structures of interaction,
and the attributes people bring to the interaction by
providing a meaning system, which both constrains and
enables action [37]. The importance of this concept lies in
its utility: the classification of types of social relations and
behaviors into a smaller set of roles reduces the analytic
complexity of social systems and facilitates the comparative
study of populations across time and settings [32]. Roles
can be understood through two primary dimensions:
structure and culture. The structural definition of roles
pertains to commonalities in behavior patterns, while the
cultural dimension refers to roles that are recognized in
social (or organizational) settings and differ in terms of
their accessibility (the extent to which it is easy to accept a
role) and situational contingency (the contextual factors that
affect action). Roles are resources that help people
accomplish their goals, and tools used in the establishment
of social structure [8]. Hence, social (or organizational)
structure can be viewed as an ecology of roles.
Formal organizations are generally understood to be
systems of coordinated and controlled activities that arise
when work is embedded in complex networks of technical
relations and boundary-spanning exchanges [38].
Organizational structure affects organizational action in two
primary ways. First, it provides the foundation on which
standard operating procedures and routines rest. Second, it
determines individuals’ role assignment and their access to
decision-making processes. Hence, the structure determines
the extent to which individuals at different organizational
positions can influence the organization’s actions [39].
ORGANIZATIONAL ROLES IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES
Online communities, and in particular production
communities, have been investigated extensively in recent
years. Relevant to our inquiry of roles and organizational
structure are prior works that studied community members’
roles. Previous investigations have discovered that users
often follow very distinctive patterns of activity, playing
roles in their online community [58]. Production
communities are often described in terms of a core-
periphery structure, which entails a dense, cohesive core,
and a sparse, unconnected periphery [11, 13, 20, 33, 35, 45,
52]. Contributors play different roles: the majority of
participants, who are not very active, are situated at the
community’s periphery; and a small minority, who take on
additional responsibilities and privileges, constitute the
community’s core. For example, Long and Siau [35] found
that social interaction patterns in open source projects start
with a single hub, and as the project matures the
configuration evolves into a core/periphery structure. Most
prior studies in the area have defined participants’ position
on the periphery-core continuum based on the quantity and
types of activities they perform [5, 30, 34]. For example, [4]
categorized contributors into two primary classes:
administrative- vs. content-oriented; and [57] applied a
combination of interpretive and network analysis methods
to identify key roles. Much less work has been devoted to
studying contributors’ formal duties [16]. A few prior
works provide a partial description of Wikipedia’s formal
roles [24, 42, 55]. Building on these earlier works, a recent
study [3] has analyzed access privileges in Wikipedia and
developed a comprehensive description of Wikipedia’s
organizational structure, including twelve roles (organized
in a power hierarchy: Unregistered Users, Registered
Users, Manually Registered Users, Technical
Administration, Border Patrol, Quality Assurance, QA
Technicians, Administrators, Security Force, Directors,
Privacy Commissioner, and Benevolent Dictator (see Table
1).
Table 1: The organizational structure of Wikipedia (adapted from [3])
ROLE TRANSITIONS IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES
Traditionally, when individuals advance their careers in
organizations, they move through positions that provide
them with increasing degrees of responsibility, often
including vertical authority over others [14]. Recently,
organizational theorists have argued that traditional notions
of career progression make several assumptions that no
longer reflect workplace realities, such as: mobility within a
single large organization, stability in the organization and
its environment, and hierarchical (i.e. vertical) progression
[7]. Thus, there is a need to pay more attention to lateral (or
horizontal) progression that relies on expertise, identity,
achievement, and community involvement, rather than on
hierarchy and formal authority [27]. Such lateral
movements often involve transitions between functional
areas.
Online production communities, are characterized by
movements from the community’s periphery to positions of
responsibility and influence at the community’s core [21,
43, 56]. Although many studies have discussed the different
ways in which users participate in online communities and
the various activities they take part in, no study offers an
overall framework of career paths in online production
communities. Prior research has concentrated on
descriptions of the core members’ (leaders, owners) duties
and activities [15, 46], the distribution of authority among
these members [20], as well as on the factors affecting a
participant’s promotion to a leadership role [13, 17, 18, 33].
For example, [46] showed that the nature of work differs
between Wikipedians and non-Wikipedians. Others have
examined promotion procedures: [13] investigated the
criteria for promotion decisions (i.e. the RfA process and
adminship decisions); [19] studied the relationship between
editors position within the social network and promotion
decisions; and [33] demonstrated that promotion depends
on the candidate’s relative activity levels. These studies –
although rich in detail – provide a restricted and simplified
conceptualization of the transitions towards leadership.
Preece and Shneiderman [48] provide an overall framework
of emergent leadership in online communities by
Level on
Org. Chart Role Description Access Privileges
Level 0 Unregistered Users Non community members *
Level 1 Registered Users Newly registered users user
autoconfirmed
Manually Registered Users New users who had to be manually registered to
bypassed some restrictions confirmed
IPpblock-exempt
Level 2
Technical Administration Privileged users responsible for the administration
of the technical aspects (e.g. user accounts, files) filemover
accountcreator
Border Patrol Users responsible for fighting vandalism by
reverting malicious edits rollback
Quality Assurance Privileged users responsible patrolling Wikipedia
and for ensuring content quality reviewer
autoreviewer
QA Technicians Users who develop automated tools (i.e. edit
filters) to assist quality assurance work abusefilter
Level 3 Administrators Highly involved users that are responsible for the
social administration of the English Wikipedia
community
sysop
bureaucrat
Level 4 Security Force Highly trusted users who are working to keep
malicious users out and combat intentional
manipulations of content
oversight
checkuser
Level 5 Directors Key users responsible for oversight of the
Wikimedia organization steward
importer & transwiki
Privacy Commissioner High-ranking users who investigate complaints
about violations of privacy policy ombudsman
Level 6 Benevolent Dictator Jimmy Wales; responsible for defining high-level
policies and norms and for overall direction of the
community
founder
synthesizing prior works in the area. They present a
nuanced classification of activities, organizing roles in
successive levels of involvement, termed the “Reader to
Leader” (R2L) framework. The reader category represents
the lowest level of participation, and includes tasks such as
browsing, surfing, and searching. Reading of user-
generated content posted by other participants can be
thought of as legitimate peripheral participation [31]; it is a
necessary condition for knowledge reuse, and is a typical
first step toward more active participation [47]. Next, the
contributor category represents a gradual move towards
larger and more frequent contributions as participants’
confidence grows and they feel empowered and appreciated
[59]. Activities in this category include: contributing
comments and responses to others’ postings, rating previous
contributions, tagging and categorizing existing content,
and making small knowledge contributions (e.g. correcting
an error, adding a hyperlink). The next level of
participation, collaborator, involves two or more
contributors discussing, cooperating, and working together
to create something or share information [22]. These
activities allow participants to bring more from themselves
and more fully express their opinions and ideas. Finally, the
leader category represents the highest level of participation.
In addition to being active contributors and collaborators,
leaders (also referred to as “owners”), are responsible for
social management tasks (e.g. establishing community
norms and explicit policies or conflict resolution) and
administration of the technology infrastructure [16]. A
unique feature of the R2L framework is that it provides an
intricate picture of role transitions, acknowledging both
upstream and downstream transitions, as well as bypasses
of intermediate stages (e.g. from contributor directly to
leader, bypassing the collaborator stage). Notwithstanding
these merits, the R2L conceptualization seems to collapse
two important dimensions: organizational power and
function, impeding the distinction between different
functional roles that are situated at a similar point on the
Reader–Leader continuum. We also note that, despite its
influence in the CSCW community, the R2L framework has
not yet been examined empirically. The objective of the
current study is, thus, to try and fill in these gaps in the
literature, empirically evaluate role transitions and assess
the extent to which the R2L conceptualization captures the
reality of career paths within production communities.
METHOD
Research Setting
The focus of this empirical investigation is the English
Wikipedia and its community of editors. We base our data
gathering and analysis on Wikipedia’s system logs;
harvesting these logs can reveal important insights about
members’ ongoing behavior in its natural setting.
Over time, the Wikipedia community has developed a
comprehensive and detailed set of procedures for governing
the collaborative editing process, including a well-defined
scheme of roles access privileges [14]. We focus on human
editors and exclude software bots [25] from this analysis. We
note that in Wikipedia, anyone can contribute without
registering. This results in two types of participants:
anonymous (represented by the ‘*’ tag), whose contribution
is recorded and associated with an IP address, and registered
users, whose contributions are associated a user name. Since
we cannot track subsequent role transitions for participants
who initially contribute anonymously (it is not possible to
univocally associate IP-based contributions with a user name
when one starts as an anonymous contributor and later
registers an account), anonymous contributors were excluded
from our analysis.
Our mapping of access privileges onto organizational roles,
illustrated in Table 1, was based on the earlier work of [3],
employing a combination of top-down (review of relevant
scholarly literature and Wikipedia’s own definitions of roles
and access privileges) and bottom up methods (using log data
of all Wikimedia users and statistical analysis techniques). A
key advantage of using the framework at [3] is that it
arranges Wikipedia roles on a continuum from the
community periphery to the core, thus allowing us to analyze
movements up (or down) the organizational chart.
Transitions between roles were defined as follows: when a
participant is assigned an access privilege that is associated
with a more advanced role, we designate her as being
promoted to this role; and when a participant loses all
privileges associated with the advanced role, we designate
her as being demoted to a less advanced role.
Sample
Our sample included 2174 Wikipedia editors who are all
registered members. Since articles’ topical categories may
attract different types of contributors, we sought a sample of
users who have contributed to a representative sample of
Wikipedia articles. Therefore, our sampling procedure used a
seed of 96 articles that provides a representation of
Wikipedia’s topical categories and which has been employed
in earlier studies [4, 6]. This set of articles (created in January
2007) was selected based on randomization and a stratified
sampling of Wikipedia’s topics, congruent with Wikipedia’s
top-level classification1 [29] (categories: culture, art, and
religion; math, science, and technology; geography and
places; people and self; society; and history and events).
From this original set of 96 Wikipedia articles, 3 were
discontinued and their edit history is no longer available,
leaving us with 93 articles.
Our sample of Wikipedia participants included every editor
who contributed at least one edit to any of these Wikipedia
articles (prior to the 2007 cut-off). For the reasons mentioned
earlier, we excluded anonymous contributors and software
bots. Our procedure rendered a sample of 2174 distinct
1 For a list of Wikipedia top-level categories, please refer to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_overviews
participants. We followed these participants from the time
they registered with Wikipedia until June 2012, recording
every change in their Wikipedia roles during this period.
Data Collection
In order to address RQ1, we employed data harvested from
Wikipedia logs. To profile the activities of the various roles,
we retrieved data regarding the contributions of our user
sample across all Wikipedia namespaces, including: main
article pages (production work); talk pages (coordination
work); user and user talk pages (communicating with others);
Wikipedia and other pages (community work) [17]. For the
second RQ, we gathered data regarding the evolution of roles
within Wikipedia from an internal report by a senior
Wikipedian2. Finally, for tackling RQ3 and collect data
regarding role transitions, we first queried the Wikipedia API
(http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php) to determine whether a
participant is a registered user; we then used the API to
receive the list of role changes for each participant in our
sample, resulting in 7563 role-change events. Organizing the
role change history, we determined the participant’s role at
each point in time, and recorded role transitions.
In order to verify the accuracy of the user-role data, we
compared it to other sources: the rights log history3 and
alternative sources archiving role transitions at the early days
of Wikipedia4. In cases of mismatch (7% of the events), a
discrepancy was flagged, and was resolved manually. Some
of the more common discrepancies included software bots
that were initially registered as regular users (and once
identified as bots, were excluded from the sample) and
administrators who lost their privileges due to inactivity (in
such cases, we tracked the missing date for this event). In
addition, in a few cases transitions that were recorded
properly reflected a technical issue, rather than a role change
(e.g. a particular privilege was added, removed a few minutes
later, and then a different privilege was assigned). After a
careful manual inspection of short-duration event sequences,
we excluded those events that did not seem to represent an
actual role transition. Once we compiled a reliable list of
access privilege transitions, we mapped them onto Wikipedia
roles (as specified in Table 1 above) to arrive at role
transitions. Many of the access privilege transition events did
not induce changes in Wikipedia roles (e.g. a ‘filemover’
taking on the additional privileges of an ‘accountcreator’;
both corresponding to the Technical Administrator role). We
focused our attention on those access privilege transitions
that entail a move between role categories.
2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:NoSeptember/The_NoSeptemb
er_Admin_Project
3https://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special%3ALog&t
ype=rights
4 Namely the Meta:Bureaucrat log
(https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Meta:Bureaucrat_log), which
records privielege changes prior to 10 December 2004.
In order to provide richer context and ground the overall
analysis in additional data sources and individual user
cases, we identified a list of seventeen editors that capture
the various role transition patterns, focusing on unique
cases (e.g. editors that transition particularly quickly or
slowly; extremely active editors, cases of demotions).
Altogether, we investigated 17 editors with IDs: 11; 96;
20134; 29678; 44020; 82835; 124324; 126457; 274040;
889851; 1403682; 1812441; 1862829; 2164608; 2267145;
3162157; and 3138762.We gathered information about
these editors from a variety of Wikipedia sources, including
editors’ personal pages and talkpages; requests for
adminship (RFA)5; requests for de-adminship6; the logging
table (e.g. checking who is operating a bot)7; and pages
tracking dispute resolution cases. This selected set of
editors captured cases to exemplify the various role-
transition dimensions; in terms of seniority: 8 veterans
(joining Wikipedia up to 2004) and 9 that joined later;
editing activity: 7 with relatively low activity patterns
across the various namespaces (no more than few thousand
edits), 5 moderate (tens of thousands of edits), and 5 highly
active editors (more than one-hundred-thousand edits);
rank: 1 editor that never made a role transition, 14 that have
gained Level 2 privileges, 13 Level 3 cases, and 1 editor at
Level 5; pace: 5 that made fast transitions (less than a year),
5 that transitioned at a regular pace (one-three years), and 6
slow movers (transitioning after more than three years); and
controversial: 5 editors that have been blocked (some only
temporarily and others for prolonged periods) and 7 that
have been demoted (either voluntarily or forced by the
community). We used these cases to illustrate role
transitions and career paths from a micro perspective.
RESULTS
Out of the 2174 editors in our set the majority were from
the community’s periphery (i.e. auto and manually-
registered users), relatively few were at the intermediate
levels, and no instances were recorded for the top levels
(namely, the ‘steward’, ‘importer & transwiki’,
‘ombudsman’, and ‘founder’ privileges)8. In total, we
recorded 21 Manually Registered Users (1 confirmed and
21 IPpblock-exempt); 12 Technical Administrators (9
filemovers and 5 accountcreators; 127 users with Border
Patrol (i.e. rollback) privileges; 287 at the Quality
Assurance role (244 reviewer and 150 autoreviewer); 49
QA Technicians (i.e. abusefilter); 436 Administrators (435
5en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Successful_requests_for_admin
ship
6 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_de-adminship
7 For members joining Wikipedia prior to September 7, 2005,
some information is missing from the logging table; in those cases
we used the time of first edit as a proxy for registration date.
8 Across the entire Wikipedia community (all languages), there are
only 46 participants with the ‘steward’, ‘importer & transwiki’,
‘ombudsman’, or ‘founder’ access privileges. This explains why
they were almost absent from our sample.
sysops and 10 bureaucrats); 11 users as Security Force (9
oversight and 9 checkuser); and 1 Director (with importer
privilege).
To address RQ1 concerning the activity profile of each role,
we partitioned each editor’s trajectory into different
temporal sections, each listing the roles held in that time
period, as well as the length and activities across the
various Wikipedia namespaces. Then, for each role, we
aggregated the activity of all editors. In terms of overall
activity, Technical Administrators and QA Technicians
have the highest average daily activity, with 113 and 42
daily edits respectively. Level 2 and 3 roles make on
average 11-14 edits; while those at the entry (Level 1) and
top levels (Levels 4 and 5) make less than 5 daily edits. In
terms of effort across the various Wikipedia namespaces,
although all roles focus primarily on editing main pages,
each role is characterized by a distinct activity profile, as
illustrated in Figure 1. For example, New Registered Users
focus primarily on editing main pages (74% of their edits);
Technical Administrators and to a lesser extent Border
Patrol are relatively inactive on main pages, but instead
concentrate on coordination work (40% and 21%
respectively in talk pages); Security Force is characterized
by little production work (35% on main pages), and greater
focus on pages associated with policy creation and
enforcement (37% and 22% respectively on user talk and
Wikipedia namespaces); and Directors are highly active on
Wikipedia and Wikipedia talk namespaces (22% and 19%
respectively). For example, editor #3162157, who joined on
January 2007 and never transitioned beyond the Registered
User role, made 301 edits to main pages; editor #274040,
who joined on May 2005 and gained various Level 2
(Technical Administrations, Quality Assurance, Border
Patrol) and Level 3 privileges, made roughly 30,000 edits
to main pages, 3,700 in talkpages, 25,000 in user and user
talk pages, and 14,000 in other namespaces; and editor #96,
a Director that joined at 2001, made 4,200 edit to main
pages and 1000 edits across other namespaces.
Figure 1. Activity profiles associated with functional roles (as
proportion of roles overall activity).
Overall, we notice that editors at Level 3 and above
consistently present a significant number of contributions to
meta pages which pertain to community activity, such as
talk, user, user talk, Wikipedia or Wikipedia talk pages.
Level 2 role, on the other hand, present very high levels of
activity at very specific namespaces linked to their
particular duties (e.g. editors in Technical Administration
role spend substantially higher percentage of their work on
category pages, and QA Technicians focus more on
template pages).
To control for the effect of topical categories, we
partitioned the sample into sub-samples (by building on the
topical organization of the articles that were used to seed
the editor sample), and analyzed the activity patterns of
each topical sub-sample. A multivariate analysis of variance
(MANOVA) revealed very similar activity patterns across
topics – for all Wikipedia namespaces – suggesting that the
results are independent of particular topical domains.
Our next analysis focused on the evolution of roles,
addressing RQ2. Figure 2 illustrates the temporal evolution
of roles within Wikipedia. As the figure shows, in the early
days of Wikipedia, the entry level positions (Levels 0 and
1: unregistered and registered members) were joined by
‘core’ (or leadership) roles: Level 3 (sysop; 2002); Level 4
(oversight, checkuser; 2002); Level 5 (steward; granted to
the founder Wales in 2002); and Level 6 (founder; 2002). In
2004 steward privileges were granted to other beyond the
founder, and in 2006 the privileges of ombudsman,
importer, and transwiki were introduced. Only at the next
phase of Wikipedia’s evolution - in 2008 and 2009 (with
later additions in 2011) was the intermediate functional
layer introduced and Level 2 roles emerged.
In order to understand how these various roles were
populated as Wikipedia evolved, we studied the distribution
of access privileges by plotting the levels reached by the
users in our sample. In the early years of Wikipedia, the
vast majority of users were al Level 1; by 2005, as the
second phase of Wikipedia’s life began, the project
increasingly gained traction, and the number of new editors
joining rapidly grew; realizing the need to curate the
immense amounts of new content being constantly created,
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
Others
Wikipedia&Talk
User&Talk
MainTalk
Main
Figure 2. The Evolution of Wikipedia’s access privileges
Level 2 functions were introduced and gradually populated.
Figure 3 shows the changes in the proportion of editors (y-
axis) in each of the top five levels. We can see that the
proportion of Level 3 users (sysop, bureaucrat) started to
represent a noticeable fraction of the total population circa
April 2005, and from January 2008 it has remained quite
stable. Furthermore, since the introduction of levels in the
functional layer (Level 2), starting in January 2008, the
proportion of users taking roles from this layer has rapidly
increased, reducing the proportion of entry level users
(Level 1). This finding offers evidence of the emergence of
a group of intermediate level users focusing on tasks such
as content curation and fighting vandalism.
An example from our selected subset of editors could
illustrate this evolution. Consider editor #126457, a
librarian who worked at Cambridge College and the British
Antarctic Survey, and primarily contributes to pages
covering historical figures, events, and places (in addition
to his community activity). Editor #126457 became a
member on October 2004, an Administrator (Level 3) on
November 2005, and added the role of QA Technician
(Level 2) on July 2009.
Once we established the nature and evolution of
Wikipedia’s functional roles, we turned our attention to
investigating editors’ role transitions. In order to address
RQ3, we first counted the times each role transition type
occurred in our sample. In total, we recorded 1103 role
transitions (see Table 2). Out of the 2174 participants, 732
(34%) transitioned to various organizational roles, while the
remainder 1442 (66%) never moved beyond the entry levels
(i.e. registered users)9.
We observed both horizontal and vertical transitions. We
note horizontal transitions at the intermediate level (Level
9 Note that after becoming an Administrator, one adds a series of
Level 2 roles, each such addition is recorded as a transition from
Level 3 to the Level 2 role.
2), where there are transitions between the Border Patrol
and Quality Assurance roles. For example, editor #20134
registered with Wikipedia in August 2003, gained the
Quality Assurance role in June 2010, and six months later
added the Border Patrol role. Vertical transitions from one
organizational level to another include transitions such as
the one from the Registered Member (Level 1) to Quality
Assurance (Level 2) roles, or from Border Patrol (Level 2)
to Administrators (Level 3) (for example, editor #1862829
registered on July 2006, gained the Border Patrol role on
April 2008, and became an Administrator on October
2008). Overall, the majority of transitions were vertical
(995 instances; 90%). For the horizontal transitions, it is
interesting to note that while there are some roles with little
to/from transition (e.g. QA Technicians), other roles are
characterized by frequent horizontal movement (e.g. Border
Patrol)10.
For the vertical transitions, while in some cases the
transition to the community’s core is sequential. (e.g., 346
transitions from Level 1 to 2 and 21 transitions from Level
2 to 3), the majority of vertical transitions skip intermediate
levels (e.g., 421 transitions from Level 1 to 3). Examples
from our selected set of editors could illustrate the upward
transition process: editors #2267145, #11, and #126457
who made the transition to administrative role (i.e. Level 3)
prior to the introduction of the functional layer (at 2007,
2006, and 2005 respectively) moved directly from being
Registered Users to administrative position, the latter two
editors adding on Level 2 roles at a later time; in contrast,
editors #1862829 and #44020 attained their administrative
position later (at 2008 and 2010 respectively) and have
made linear transitions: Level 1 => Level 2 => Level 3.
Despite the fact that the majority of vertical transitions are
upward (792 cases), a relatively large number of transitions
were downward (195 cases). In particular, we noted 81
cases where core community members (Level 3) shed their
special privileges and become regular members. For
downward transitions, we distinguish between cases where
an editor was first granted the higher level role and later
added a lower level role (as in the case of editor #126457),
and cases of demotion where an editor loses the higher level
privilege (for example, editor #29678, who gained
Administrator privileges on March 2009, lost them due to
inactivity on October 2011). Table 2 presents these various
role transitions.
In order to represent the intricate role transition dynamics,
Figure 4 illustrates promotion and demotion role transitions
(for clarity, we excluded from the figure same-level
transitions, as well as cases of downward transitions that do
not entail demotion).
10 Cases where an editor played multiple Level 2 roles and lost one
are not captured in our analysis.
Figure 3. The proportions of role population over time.
Level 1 2 3 4 5
Level
To
From
Registered Users
Manually Registered
Users
Tech. Admin.
Border Patrol
Quality Assurance
QA Tech.
Administrators
Security Force
Directors
1 Registered Users 10 +2 +109 +217 +16 +420 +4 +1
Manually Registered Users 7 +2 +1
2
Technical Administration -1
Border Patrol -14 5 6 66 +16
Quality Assurance -14 2 6 12 +4
QA Technicians -2 1 1 +1
3 Administrators -81 6 4 8 / -7 4 / -3 40 / -2 +7
4 Security Force 1
5 Directors
Table 2. Role transitions count” a plus sign (“+”) represents promotions, and minus sign (“-”) demotions; no sign indicates a same-
level transition, or cases where higher-level roles were retained while picking up lower-level privileges.
Figure 4. Promotion and demotion transitions. Circle size corresponds to the number of editors in the sample; upward solid arrows
represent transition to a higher level; downward dotted arrows represent cases where editors lost higher level privileges. Width of
arrows represents number of role transitions count. For clarity, same-level transitions, as well as downward transition that do not
entail demotion (i.e. editors kept their higher-level privilege), are excluded from the figure.
The analyses described above highlight the importance of
the mid-level strata of contributors. These contributors are
characterized by functional focus and diversity and
represented by Level 2 roles in Wikipedia’s
organizational structure. In order to fully understand how
these roles are attained, we performed an analysis of
incoming transitions into Level 2 roles (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Sources of incoming transitions into Level 2 roles.
This analysis reveals that in addition to the differences in
terms of activity profiles reported earlier, the various
Level 2 roles seem to represent different career paths. For
example, transitions into Technical Administration are
primarily through other Level 2 roles (namely, Border
Patrol and Quality Assurance); progression into Border
Patrol is directly from Level 1; and the role of QA
Technicians is often appended to Administrators.
In addition to the patterns emerging from our quantitative
analysis (as discussed above), the qualitative analysis of
the selected 17 editors revealed some interesting insights.
Although we cannot validate statistically the significance
of these findings, they do highlight some interesting
patterns. The discussions associated with promotion
decisions reveal that editing activity is a key consideration
(see [13, 33]). As we have shown earlier, while all editors
focus their editing activities on main pages (see Figure 1),
administrators consistently present high activity levels in
that namespace. The administrators in our representative
set - #1862829, #44020, #2267145, #11, #889851,
#126457, #29678, #274040, #124324, #82835, #1403682,
#2164608, and #1812441 - had an average of 60,000
Main edits (ranging 5,000-120,000) up to our study’s
cutoff. In addition, contributions to other namespaces,
which represent communications between editors and
community activity, also seem to be relevant for
promotion. For example, editor #2267145 has made over
50,000 edits to Talkpages; #889851 has edited User and
User Talk pages over 36,000 times; and editor #82835
made over 82,000 edits to Talkpages, 38,000 to User and
User Talk pages, and roughly 85,000 other meta pages.
This data suggests that while a significant editing activity
in main pages is required for promotion to administrative
position, active participation in a variety of other
namespaces is also essential to achieve a promotion.
Timing also seems to have influenced the promotion
process, and our qualitative analysis reveals the very low
volume of participation in older voting processes for
Administrator (in contrast with the high community
participation from 2007 onwards). An extreme example is
editor #96, who was made an Administrator on Feb. 2004
with just 6 positive votes
The in-depth examination of 17 editors also shed
additional light on the process of downward transitions.
As revealed through the statistical analysis, a downward
transition can entail a demotion (when higher-level
privileges are shed; e.g. editor #29678) or a case where a
higher-level role - typically, Level 3 - adds lower-level
privileges - commonly Level 2 (e.g. editor #126457).
When studying the reasons for demotions, we found
evidence for both community-initiated and self-
demotions. Reasons for community-initiated demotions
were prolonged inactivity period (as in the case of editor
#29678) or abuse of Wikipedia norms (often abuse of
rollback privileges). For example, editors #889851,
#274040 and #124324 lost administrative privileges due
to misuse of administrative tools, failing to respond to
community concerns, or inappropriate off-wiki behavior.
Self-demotions are often the result continuous
controversies and confrontations (e.g. editors #82835,
#1403682, and #2164608). We note that demotion cases
are often linked to blocking incidents, where an editor is
prevented from editing activities for some period (in few
cases, indefinitely). For instance, editor #274040, who
was forced to give up administrative privileges, was
banned 12 different times (due to page-move vandalism,
blocks and violations of earlier bans). In fact, regaining
administrative privileges required a clean record of
‘blocks’. It is interesting to note that extremely active
users who contribute across the various namespaces, are
often involved in controversies and disputes, and in
multiple occasions have been banned.
Our qualitative analysis also revealed that some of the
users at higher ranks make use of advanced tools for
automating editing tasks (that is, they operate ‘bots’),
leading to unusual peaks in editing activity. Most notably,
we can identify the use of the AutoWikiBrowser tool as
one of the main triggers for an unusually high number of
edits. For example, editor #1862829 is not only one of the
developers of AutoWikiBrowser, he is also one of the 20
most active Wikipedians and runs a bot to carry out tasks
that would otherwise be tedious.
Our study of the selected set of editors also examined
participation in additional community activity. When
analyzing participation in WikiProjects – projects
typically dedicated to improving articles in a particular
domain – we were not able to find evidence linking
WikiProject participation to any particular user profile.
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
Level3&up:demotion
Level3&up:addingroles
Level2:QATech
Level2:QA
Level2:BorderPatrol
Level2:TechAdmin
Level1
DISCUSSION
Recent years have seen increasing interest in investigating
organizational roles within online communities and the
process by which contributors transition between roles.
Conceptualizations such as the Reader-to-Leader
framework [48] have received significant attention. Yet,
to date, there has been no quantitative empirical
evaluation of role transition processes. Our study of
career paths in Wikipedia over a period of over ten years
provides insights into the dynamics of transitions between
the community’s periphery and core. The results highlight
the significance of functional roles for understanding how
online production communities organize their work. In
particular, our findings call into focus the functional mid-
level organizational level (i.e. Level 2) of Wikipedia.
The findings show that formal roles determine users’
actual activity patterns across a variety of editing tasks
(i.e. namespaces). To date, much of the research on the
organizational structure within production relied on
activity counts for determining one’s position on the
periphery-core continuum [5, 30, 34].
A second contribution this study makes is in delineating
the evolution of Wikipedia’s organizational structure.
Earlier studies have noted Wikipedia’s increased
bureaucracy [14] and have associated the growing
complexity of Wikipedia’s organizational structure with
decreased effectiveness [26, 54]. Our findings, on the
other hand, suggest that the introduction of additional
functions (namely, Level 2 roles) was necessary for
curating the mounting number of new contributions. This
finding is in line with recent works which suggest that
online production communities that fail to create such
organizational structures are not sustainable [41].
We also make a contribution in describing role transition
dynamics within Wikipedia. Our empirical evaluation
validates prior knowledge in the area [13, 23, 35, 43] and
demonstrates that the number of community members
decreases as we grow closer to the core: only a relatively
small number of contributors proceed to Level 3 and even
fewer continue to becoming a core member (i.e. Levels 4
and higher). Level 2, because of its late introduction, is
still not fully developed, but we expect that the number of
contributors at this level would grow and surpass the
number of administrators (Level 3). Our results (see Table
2) clearly show that not all paths are equally traversed; in
fact, some paths are never traversed (at least in our
sample), suggesting that – although not formally
articulated – there are de-facto career paths within
Wikipedia.
A key finding of our study is that the strength of paths (in
terms of the frequency in which participants traverse
them) does not correspond to the predictions of extant
conceptualizations. In particular, against the predictions
of the R2L model, which suggests a primary path to
leadership characterized by a linear sequence from the
periphery to the core of the community (with some
additional, non-linear secondary paths that may skip a
particular stage), findings from the present study suggest
that these non-sequential paths are the rule rather than the
exception. Namely, in most cases participants move
directly from the entry levels to the community’s core
(skipping intermediate functional roles). This may be an
artefact of the late introduction of Level 2 roles, although
even after 2009 most of the Wikipedians arriving at Level
3 did so directly, bypassing Level 2 roles. The implication
of this finding is that Level 2 roles must not be seen as a
step towards becoming a community leader; instead, they
represent functional positions that are important in their
own right.
While most of the prior studies in the area emphasize
upward transitions towards leadership positions, our study
provides evidence for the existence of transitions from the
core back to the community’s periphery. In some cases
this may simply reflect community regeneration, where
old leadership makes way for new generations of
contributors that step-up to take additional responsibilities
(as has been observed in the context of open-source
software development [52] and Wikipedia [49]). In fact,
in mid-2012 Wikipedia developed a policy to retire
inactive administrators11. In other cases, however, these
‘downward’ transitions are the result of heated
confrontations between community members. For
example, consider the case of editor #124324, who
engaged in arguments with a few other editors, eventually
became frustrated with his treatment (both directly and
through the formal arbitration/incident handling process),
and voluntary gave up his administrator privileges. In the
words of editor #124324:
“In response to the Committee's decision to declare
finding … “[#124324] ... has used his administrative
tools while involved …)”, I've requested a desysopping”
“anybody who cares: my self-block wasn't some kind of
“tantrum” or strategy; it was a genuine attempt to get
the hell away”
In other cases, editors are forced to give up privileges, as
in the case of the editor #82835, one of the most active
Wikipedians. The case involves accusations of disruptive
editing against the editor. The demotion decision centers
around principles of collegiality and the use of automation
tools. The community decided to revoke administrator
privileges and ban editor #82835for up to one year.
Interestingly, as with the upward transitions, we found
that when core members (at Level 3 of the organizational
chart) move down the organizational ladder they most
often transition directly to become a regular member,
rather than traversing through the intermediate Level 2.
11 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:INACTIVITY
To the best of our knowledge, demotions were not
previously investigated in the context of production
communities and no prior studies have investigated the
departure – whether voluntary or compulsory – of key
community members (aside from the well-known case of
Wikipedia cofounder Sanger’s exit of Wikipedia [53]).
While such demotions are the exception, rather than the
norm, exposing this pattern enriches our understanding of
career paths within online production communities.
Another insight from our study is that the dynamics of the
roles transitions are more complex and intricate than
originally perceived: we found evidence for both horizontal
and vertical transitions; both upward and downward
movements; sequential progression through intermediate
phases, as well as direct transitions that bypass intermediate
levels. Preece and Shneiderman [48] have already
postulated that role transition is not one-directional, and
that users can move up and down the leadership ladder.
However, the evidence presented here points to complex
patterns of transitions, whereby participants switch between
organizational roles (a pattern brought to the extreme by
one editor whose career spanned six role transitions). For
example, we observed repeated cases where those who
directly progressed to higher-level administrative roles (i.e.
Level 3) choose to later add intermediate functional roles
(Level 2); a pattern not discussed in prior works. Not only
do we expose previously unobserved transition patterns,
our findings also offer empirically-validated weights (or
probabilities) for the various role transitions.
In sum, our study builds on and extends prior knowledge in
the area in several important directions. In recent years,
researchers in the area have begun to recognize the need to
move beyond the simplistic conceptualization of core-
periphery. One line of research has focused on the process
of promotion within Wikipedia. These studies tend to focus
on a particular promotion decision, often to 'sysop': a
single transition in the organizational chart and a single
event in a user's trajectory. For example, [13, 17, 18]
studied how activity patterns affect promotion to
administrator position. While such studies are useful in
shedding light on why and how people move to
administrative positions, they tell us little about the
organizational structure in its entirety; further, they do not
capture contributors’ full role transition trajectories. In
addition, most of these studies view career path on a single
dimension - promotion to position of power – not
distinguishing between the functional roles played at each
position. Because of the focus on promotion to higher-order
positions (i.e. Administrator), they miss on the complex
functional organization at the middle level of the
organizational chart (i.e. Level 2). Another interesting line
of research has been investigating the nature of leaders (and
leadership) within online communities, moving beyond the
single-dimension characterization of leadership (power or
authority; i.e. core-periphery continuum). For example,
[60] investigated editors leadership styles (transactional,
person-focused, aversive, and legitimate leadership), and
showed that these leadership behaviors are not restricted to
those in formal administrator positions; and [61] developed
a machine learning technique to automatically identify
these leadership behaviors. [36] have analyzed leadership
behaviors in an online community, argued that these
behaviors should be distributed between many community
members (as opposed to centralized leadership), and
developed a tool to assist in leadership tasks. Our study
extends these lines of investigation in four important ways:
(a) our study focuses contributors’ functional roles (as
opposed to leadership behaviors), and brings into attention
the intermediate “professional” level that is often absent in
studies of leadership; (b) we study Wikipedia’s entire
functional organization (and transitions between functional
roles), rather than focusing on a particular type of
transition, thus enabling us to validate conceptualizations
such as the Reader-to-Leader framework, and revealing
unpredicted patterns (e.g. editors moving directly to
administrative position and later assuming function lower-
level roles; (c) we demonstrate that despite the loose
governance of Wikipedia and the fact that editing activities
are open to all, the functional role seems to determine the
type of activities editors engage in, such that each
functional role is associated with a distinct activity profile;
and (d) we shed new light on downward transitions out of
the community’s core, a topic that has been under-
investigated.
Finally, we make a secondary methodological contribution
regarding the usage of system logs as a tool for answering
organizational research questions. Our experience has
taught us that beyond the standard data cleaning that is
necessary, there is a need to triangulate data from multiple
sources to ensure its reliability. Some of the examples we
have encountered include: automated bots not marked as
such; incomplete registration date for early entrants;
inconsistencies between two sources recording granting of
access privileges; missing data on role granting in
privileges logs (as evident by comments on editors’
personal pages); and irrelevant privileges granting data in
the logs that do not reflect role changes (i.e. a series of
erroneous transactions and their corrections). We would
like to offer a word of caution to researchers relying on log
data in studying online communities, and to stress the
importance of data triangulation.
Implications for design and management
The findings of this study have important practical
implications for designers and administrators of online
communities. These communities strive to sustain
contributors’ participation, engagement and commitment.
An understanding of the paths contributors take could help
to develop diverse “career paths” within the community,
such that contributors with different skill sets and interests
could find suitable avenues for channeling their energy. An
implication would be to place more emphasis on early
detection and encouragement of contributors who seem to
be suitable (as indicated by their editing profiles) for
particular roles. Community owners could provide more
structure – through design and communication – to career
paths, such that prior to advancing to core administrative
duties, contributors should first serve on functional roles
such as Border Patrol or Quality Assurance.
Notwithstanding the recommendation above for
“professional” career paths, it may be useful to create – in
parallel - direct paths to leadership. Results from our study
suggest that this path may be attractive to many
Wikipedians (as indicated by the large number of editors
who bypass Level to roles on their progression to becoming
an Administrator). A design implication would be to
develop tools that track contributors’ activities and offer to
them career guidance, including suggestions for roles and
functions that best match their profile.
Our findings are also relevant to managers in firms who
explore new collaborative production strategies. For
example, some technology companies participate in open
source software development [51], whereas others have
adopted the practices of the open source movement for
their internal software development projects [50]. In a
similar vein, many companies use wiki technology as a
knowledge management tool [2], and in particular for
developing a Wikipedia-like organizational encyclopedia
[28], adopting (at least in part) the organic processes that
typify wiki-based collaboration over the Internet. Insights
from this study would be valuable to such firms, help
structure the community of practice, organize work more
effectively, design career paths, and ensure the
community’s sustainability.
CONCLUSION
Taking the results of this study as a whole, we make a case
for investigating the functional organization of online
production communities. It is interesting to note that only
now researchers of online communities are turning their
attention to the functional organization of production
communities, given that this topic is at the core of the
organizational literature [40]. Existing conceptualizations
of emergent leadership within peer production have
primarily focused on the dimension of authority (i.e.
proximity to the community core) and prior studies have
largely relied on contributors’ activity for estimating the
position on the periphery-core continuum. We, however,
argue than an understanding of the formal functions in the
community – as well as the way in which contributors
traverse these functional roles – is paramount for
explaining how online production communities organize
their work.
Given that this is only a first attempt to empirically
analyze and quantify the process of role transition along
participants’ career paths in online production
communities, our study has several limitations which we
hope to address in future research. First, in terms of
method, building on [3] we defined organizational roles
within Wikipedia based on editors access privileges. This
approach has advantages over the method used in earlier
studies where one’s position on the core-periphery
continuum was determined based on a simple
quantification of his activity [48]12. Nonetheless, we
propose that future studies employ a multi-method
approach, determining one’s role based on access
privileges, activity count, and additional recognition one
receives (e.g. in Wikipedia: ‘barnstars’13 , service
awards14 , and other personal awards15 [30, 33]).
Second, our analysis of Wikipedia’s organizational
structure has focused on human agents, whereas
automated software bots, too, carry out important tasks
[42]. We, thus, propose that future studies provide a more
complete view of work organization by also analyzing the
various tasks performed by bots. Third, we acknowledge
that the role transition patterns reported in this study have
been influenced by the process by which the Wikipedia
community introduced access privileges. For example, in
the early stages of Wikipedia development, administrators
were responsible for many of the functional roles;
however, after the introduction of Level 2 privileges
(2008-2011) many of these functions were delegated to
the Technical Administration, Border Patrol, Quality
Assurance and QA Technicians roles. This implies that
the nature of Administrator role (as well as patterns of
transitions into this role) have changed over time, calling
for a future research that would re-examine role transition
patterns once roles stabilize. Fourth, in order to increase
the generalizability of our findings, in future research we
plan to expand the analysis and perform a larger-scale
evaluation (more participants, longer time period). In
particular, the sample we employed excluded non-
member contributors and late joiners (becoming active
after 2007), and we call for future research that would
repeat our study on a more comprehensive sample. Lastly,
in future research we plan to extend our investigation to
other online communities, in particular those that differ
from Wikipedia in terms of the motivational drivers, the
governance structure, or the enabling IT platform.
Moving the investigation beyond Wikipedia is of special
importance that the distinct role-transition patterns we
have identified – and in particular the importance of the
mid-level functional layer – may be relevant to only
production communities that have grown beyond a certain
size. We call for future research that would explore the
phase in a community’s life that call for the establishment
of this kind of functional layer.
12 Preece and Shneiderman note that “…these metrics
[employed in previous studies] only capture activity. The
development of more potent measures of efficacy in achieving
personal and community goals would be a big breakthrough”.
13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Barnstars
14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Service_awards
15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Awards
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work was partially supported by SSHRC Insight
Grant 435-2013-0624, by NSF Award ACI- 1322218, and
by a grant from the Spanish
Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the
European Regional Development Fund: Content &
Intelligence (ref. IPT-2012-0912-430000). We thank
Carlos Fiorentino for his contribution to the graphical
design of figures.
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... Flags also present a progression ladder that editors may want to climb to achieve a more central position; for most of the communities, administrators (sysops and bureaucrats) take the most relevant attributions and responsibilities and are in the highest level, while registered editors are in the lowest rank (Arazy, Ortega, Nov, Yeo, & Balila, 2015). Editors can also act without logging in (anonymously), but then their IP is recorded instead of their username, and sometimes they are not allowed to edit specific pages. ...
... For registered editors, we differentiate edits made by editors having or not having the flag of administrator. Among the different user flags, we only consider the administrator flag as it is the most usual and the one with more attributions (Arazy et al., 2015). ...
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Wikipedia has been turned into an immensely popular crowd-sourced encyclopedia for information dissemination on numerous versatile topics in the form of subscription free content. It allows anyone to contribute so that the articles remain comprehensive and updated. For enrichment of content without compromising standards, the Wikipedia community enumerates a detailed set of guidelines, which should be followed. Based on these, articles are categorized into several quality classes by the Wikipedia editors with increasing adherence to guidelines. This quality assessment task by editors is laborious as well as demands platform expertise. As a first objective, in this paper, we study evolution of a Wikipedia article with respect to such quality scales. Our results show novel non-intuitive patterns emerging from this exploration. As a second objective we attempt to develop an automated data driven approach for the detection of the early signals influencing the quality change of articles. We posit this as a change point detection problem whereby we represent an article as a time series of consecutive revisions and encode every revision by a set of intuitive features. Finally, various change point detection algorithms are used to efficiently and accurately detect the future change points. We also perform various ablation studies to understand which group of features are most effective in identifying the change points. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work that rigorously explores English Wikipedia article quality life cycle from the perspective of quality indicators and provides a novel unsupervised page level approach to detect quality switch, which can help in automatic content monitoring in Wikipedia thus contributing significantly to the CSCW community.
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The quality of Wikipedia articles is debatable. On the one hand, existing research indicates that not only are people willing to contribute articles but the quality of these articles is close to that found in conventional encyclopedias. On the other hand, the public has never stopped criticizing the quality of Wikipedia articles, and critics never have trouble finding low-quality Wikipedia articles. Why do Wikipedia articles vary widely in quality? We investigate the relationship between collaboration and Wikipedia article quality. We show that the quality of Wikipedia articles is not only dependent on the different types of contributors but also on how they collaborate. Based on an empirical study, we classify contributors based on their roles in editing individual Wikipedia articles. We identify various patterns of collaboration based on the provenance or, more specifically, who does what to Wikipedia articles. Our research helps identify collaboration patterns that are preferable or detrimental for article quality, thus providing insights for designing tools and mechanisms to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles.