Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2006 Sep 04 | Outsider Contributions

When I make a substantive contribution to Wikipedia, I tend to edit "off-line" until I'm satisfied with the text, and then post it in a single chunk. While I am only a WikiGnome in any case, the typical Wikipedia metric of "edit counts" would underestimate the contribution made by people who edit in a similar fashion. My own simple Python script exhibits this problem. To get some sense of the substance of any given edit, one would have to go beyond screen-scraping and perform analysis on the Wikipedia database -- something beyond my desktop computer. Fortunately, Aaron Swartz purchased "some time on a computer cluster" and came up with the following novel result:

When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.

I'm looking forward to seeing these findings replicated.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle