Why do people volunteer to edit Wikipedia?

Wikipedia IconSome economists have long been a bit puzzled at the astounding success of Wikipedia. Standard economic theory wouldn’t predict that such a project would thrive without some form of remuneration for the participants.

There are other projects based on peer production that seem to fit economic theory better. For instance, contributors to open source software who are seeking jobs in the computer industry can list their contributions on their resume. But what, if anything, do people get back when they contribute time to Wikipedia?

Since I regularly encourage skeptics to contribute to Wikipedia, either on their own or through organized projects like Guerrilla Skepticism, the answer to this has interested me. Understanding motivations that work would help us understand how to motivate others.

Recently some researchers at Sciences Po, Harvard Law School, and University of Strasbourg created a series of experiments to get to the heart of this problem. What they found is pretty interesting.

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A butterfly flaps its wings on Twitter, and a vaccine map goes viral

CFR vaccine preventable diseases mapIf you follow the problem of vaccine denialism (like most skeptics do) and are on social media, you probably saw a cool interactive global map of disease outbreaks this week. It was created by the Council on Foreign Relations – there’s a picture of it here and a link below the fold.  

Just in the last week it was posted by many major websites including Kottke.org, Mother Jones, L.A. Times, The Verge, Wired, The Atlantic Wire and even Forbes. And of course all those posts – and the direct link to the map – were being wildly passed around on social media.

Whenever I see something like this going viral, I dig a little bit before I retweet or repost it.  Sometimes there’s a better version of the post to link, or the one you saw didn’t attribute it to the original author correctly. I like to make sure I send out the best possible version of something, not just the first one I saw.

When I dug into this vaccine preventable illness map, I found out an interesting thing that almost all of the major media posts missed. Namely, this map is not new.  In fact, it’s over two years old – it was released in late October 2011 as this press release indicates.

So why the heck is it going viral now?

I did a little digging and found an interesting thing. Most of the major media posts can be traced back to a single influential blog. And that blog’s post can be traced back to a single Twitter post that set the entire chain in motion.

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Don Colbert’s Divine Health caught paying bloggers for affiliate links

B Vitamin Supplement by Sage Ross distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

B VItamin Supplement by Sage Ross distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

My recent pieces on the Wikipedia shenanigans around Rupert Sheldrake‘s and Deepak Chopra’s biographies have got me attuned to pseudoscientists and paranormalists not playing by the rules online. Suddenly I’m noticing examples of this left and right. (I guess that’s confirmation bias for you). And so here’s another in what will no doubt become a series of pieces on the bad guys skirting the rules online.  We will get back to Sheldrake et.al. soon enough, as I have promised an update. But for now lets take a break from the topic of Wikipedia for a bit and look elsewhere.

My subject this time is Don Colbert, M.D. who practices “anti aging and integrative medicine” at his Divine Health Wellness Center in Orlando, Florida.  If there weren’t enough red flags in that sentence for the skeptics reading this, know that he “has been featured on Dr. Oz” and on “many prominent Christian TV programs.”  In typical fashion one of his websites tries to sell you a wide variety of supplements that make fairly vague claims about weight loss and immune support. His separate clinic website mentions chiropractic, something called “Multi-Dimensional Brainwave Therapy” and “Emotox – Allergy Testing” which apparently uses a “cold laser” to treat allergies. And to top it all off, Orac reports that he’s anti-vaccine to boot. This guy is not a friend of science.

The rule violation in this case may involve the dirty practice of buying links online. It was all uncovered by former CNN medical correspondent Andrew Holtz of Holtz Report, who ran a bit of an online sting.  He caught someone trying to promote Dr. Colbert’s online store via means that certainly violate journalistic ethics and may lead bloggers to violate FTC guidelines. But does it violate Google’s rules too? Let’s find out…

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Follow me on TwitFaceTumblTubeGram! Why? Here’s why.

Social Media IEver wonder why big brands and major websites often have an array of icons somewhere on their homepage, leading to popular sites like YouTube and Twitter? Follow us on Twitter! Like us on Facebook! It all seems so needy and desperate, as if the business or site has a self-esteem problem.

And why try to lure you off to another site? They’ve got you there on their site looking at their stuff, which is usually a big part of the battle in promoting anything on the Internet. Wouldn’t getting people to go elsewhere be entirely counter-productive? Well, maybe. But there is a method to their madness.

You may be inclined to say, “Well social media is the thing these days, that’s all it is.” But there’s more to it than that.

If you are trying to promote anything – be it a charity, or a good idea, or a product – a key technique on the modern web is to maintain a presence on as many popular sites as you can manage. In this post, I will attempt to explain the rationale behind that, and how you can take advantage of it in your own efforts.

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My Skeptical 2013 in Review

Measuring TapeI suddenly realized I hadn’t done a year-end wrap-up post here at Skeptools. I’m always talking about how skeptics need to measure what we are doing, so I should practice what I preach.

So below you will find the top viewed content in my various channels this past year and other year-end stats.  As always there’s something to be learned here.

For instance, it is often said that controversy is a good way to court online hits. The biggest controversy I jumped into during 2013 was reviewing the infamous “block bot” – and yes, that did get some hits for both this blog and Virtual Skeptics.  But the top post on this blog in 2013 – leading by a factor of four – was not that post, it was a how-to right in the core of this blog’s mission of helping skeptic activists online.

There are definitely other interesting surprises, so be sure to scroll down to the end. For instance, by far the most-viewed online item of mine in 2013 was a long-available news video I merely tweaked & captioned and put in my YouTube channel. And I learned that joining Storify in 2013 was a good idea, as one story I created there got more views than most of my blog posts do.

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Lawsuit reminds us that Facebook is a double edged sword for skeptics

Facebook IconI’ve written many times here about how skeptics need to take care not to inadvertently promote the online wares of those who we criticize. I’ve long recommended that skeptic bloggers and webmasters always use the NOFOLLOW attribute on links to web sites containing such material. If you don’t do this, you are boosting them in Google and thus helping their cause.

As social media has become ever more important, I’ve additionally advised to take care in linking directly to certain web sites on Twitter and Facebook. This is because even though the links on the web interface to those services are marked NOFOLLOW as an anti-spam measure, the importance of social media in marketing means those links are measured in other ways.

A lawsuit filed in the last two weeks is a vivid reminder of one of the less obvious examples of this involving Facebook specifically. I’ve mentioned this quirk of Facebook before, but only in a comment to a previous post, so I think it’s worth revisiting here.

You may be surprised to learn there is a very simple thing you may have done yourself on Facebook that plays right into the bad guys’ hands. And now Facebook is being sued over it.

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