Why don’t people edit wikipedia? Small survey results provide some insights.

This entry was posted by on Monday, 11 July, 2011 at

I tend to be a bit obsessive. An issue that keeps cropping up in my personal sphere is women editing Wikipedia. Various reasons keep being offered as to why women don’t edit, if their reasons are different from those of men, if women don’t edit because they don’t have time as they are too busy taking care of their families, etc. I wanted to know why women and men in my particular peer group didn’t edit Wikipedia. Thus, I posted surveys to my Facebook and to my LiveJournal. The raw data, as of 10:13am American Central Standard time could be found at Facebook, LiveJournal. Please feel free to continue to vote. If I have bigger samples, I can always update this. I had responses from 22 people, 12 males and 10 females. This isn’t necessarily a representative sample and if I was looking for that, I’d try much harder to get a larger response from a bigger group of people. I don’t think you can necessarily extrapolate out much from this, except to have it help confirm other smaller samples.As a side note, the Facebook poll allows people to add their own responses. (The sample size isn’t statistically significant for one thing and one response can really change the percentages.) People have and it is possible that people may have chosen responses had they been available. In any case, on with the findings.

There were several options offered that no one selected. Those answers have not been included as the totals would have been 0% and given the small sample size, it didn’t seem as relevant.

Since I wrote the explanation below, there have been about four more responses, one from a female and three from males. These were added to the totals but the explanation has not been changed. Updated again on the American morning of 11-Jul. Added three more males and another female.

Responses All Male Female All % Male % Female %
The atmosphere on Wikipedia is not conducive to random user editing. 13 6 7 44.8% 35.3% 58.3%
I don’t want to research citations to support my edits. I can fix grammar/typos. 7 5 2 24.1% 29.4% 16.7%
Not enough time to contribute. 7 3 4 24.1% 17.6% 33.3%
I know people who were treated poorly. Why subject myself to that? 3 2 1 10.3% 11.8% 8.3%
I have better things to do. 10 3 7 34.5% 17.6% 58.3%
There is no community. 2 2 0 6.9% 11.8% 0.0%
The editing window is confusing and I don’t understand the markup. 2 0 2 6.9% 0.0% 16.7%
I used to edit but people treated me poorly so I quit. 1 1 0 3.4% 5.9% 0.0%
They keep deleting my edits. 2 2 0 6.9% 11.8% 0.0%
After being overwritten incorrectly, with no dialogue as to why, & just knowing 1 1 0 3.4% 5.9% 0.0%
Overly high expectations from others regarding the quality of my edits puts me off. 1 0 1 3.4% 0.0% 8.3%
I don’t know enough to contribute 1 1 0 3.4% 5.9% 0.0%

There are some differences in responses between men and women, which appears to support the general conclusion that men and women have different reasons for (not) contributing to Wikipedia and that gender specific type engagement may be needed. One of the arguments that I’ve heard is that women would like to contribute to Wikipedia but they just do not have the time because they need to take care of their families. This small sample appears to suggest this isn’t the case: Women, much more than men in this sample, just have better things to do. I’ve talked to a few women in this sample about this to try to understand what better things they have to do, because I’ve heard the argument that women do use this type of technology and some people don’t understand why, if women do blogging and other online content creation, why they don’t contribute to Wikipedia. In this particular sample, the women I talked to explained it to me as they have a set of things they prioritise in what they do. In the case of one non-contributor, they do contribute to another wiki that immediately ties into her interests. Beyond that, she has learned that her contributions have value and that value can be realised by getting paid for them by writing for sites like associated content and squidoo. There isn’t the inherent value that can be realised when contributing to Wikipedia, so why should she spend the time contributing? This appears to be supported because of the six who said they have better things to do, only one female also said she didn’t have enough time to contribute.

A lot of the answers appear to have to do with community and negative interactions. Six women answered yes to “The atmosphere on Wikipedia is not conducive to random user editing.” as a reason why they don’t edit. This compares to only four of the twelve men. This was a common theme when I talked some of the women in this sample: The community is not supportive, things get undone, there aren’t people helping guide new contributors and serving as mentors. There isn’t much positive feedback. If you run into problems, you have to go ask for it yourself and then you get in trouble for canvassing. More experiences editors are involved in areas and they don’t do anything when it looks like there are obvious problems to the random female editor. The situation reminds me a bit of wikiHow. I haven’t edited there in a while, but I’ve generally highly respected what Jack Herrick and other admins have done with their wiki culture as a whole. They make welcoming a big thing. They provide lots of positive feedback. They appear to work on community. They offer ways to get recognition for your contributions. People involved in running it have always seemed highly accessible, even if they aren’t. wikiHow also appears to place a priority on civility that English Wikipedia only gives lip service to. Evidence? Become a wikiHow Admin states a criteria of being an admin: Empathy and kindness – Admins exist to serve the broader community of editors and readers. A demonstrated history of treating others with kindness and mutual respect is a necessity.

Beyond those two of The atmosphere on Wikipedia is not conducive to random user editing. and I have better things to do with my time., no answer had more than 50% of the female response… and worth noting, women had that. The male respondents didn’t have a voting block similar to that. The largest male response was The atmosphere on Wikipedia is not conducive to random user editing., with 33% answering that as a reason. The next largest male block I don’t want to research citations to support my edits. I can fix grammar/typos. , with 25% citing that as a reason. That response is not necessarily a community response, suggesting community problems so much as content policy and I don’t know how to address that.

I’d love to do a bigger survey with more results, see if responses change with more respondents. I do think it supports the idea that lack of time is not the major reason that women don’t contribute and that technology and the format discourage women from contributing. Only one female cited that as an issue. A refocus and reprioritisation may be needed if the goal is to increase female contributions to English Wikipedia.

I post and then two more people vote, one male and one female. If I get another ten total responses, I’ll update with new totals.

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