Tag Archives: incentives

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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Incentivizing online activism – a proposal

An idea popped into my head this afternoon. Readers who are enthusiastic users of services like Foursquare or Untappd will get it immediately, but the rest of you might need some explanation first.

Typical game elements from two gamified web sitesFor some time now I’ve been writing about things skeptics can do online to advance the cause of skeptical outreach. Of course blogging and podcasting are obvious avenues, but lately I’ve focused on crowd-sourced projects such as editing Wikipedia skeptically or rating sites in Web of Trust.

I think these projects could have a broader appeal (and perhaps a broader effect) in part because they lend themselves to small, incremental investments of time and effort. Blogs and podcasts generally require a substantial commitment of time, something not all skeptics are able or willing to do. But making skeptical edits to Wikipedia (for example) can be done in very small slices that can easily fit into an otherwise busy schedule. You can spend as much or as little time on it as you see fit, and it all still counts.

But therein lies a problem. For their huge investment of time, bloggers and podcasters get ample recognition for their work.  We all know their names, as they have thousands of readers or listeners.

But how do we provide some recognition or incentive for skeptics to devote little slices of their time to these crowdsourced projects? These tiny incremental efforts normally go unnoticed. Read on for my proposal.

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