Letter from the Wikimedia Community Health Task Force

My first thought at the sender’s name was that the Wikiworld was going to put its crowdsourcing muscle into crafting a heatlh-care bill. But no, apparently I haven’t been contributing enough to Wikipedia, as I received this email today:

from Wikimedia Community Health Task Force
date Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 8:43 PM
subject Survey from Wikipedia
mailed-by wikimedia.org


We are studying the habits of Wikipedia contributors, seeking to identify and address reasons why people stop contributing. We noticed that you haven’t made any edits in a while, and we’re wondering where you’ve been.

We would appreciate 5 minutes of your time to complete an online survey. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our community and your responses will help us understand what Wikipedia is doing well and what we can improve on.

Please click on the link below to be directed to the survey.


Thank you for contributing to Wikipedia and for your help in improving our community.

The Wikimedia Community Health Task Force

The Wikimedia Community Health Task Force represents a group volunteers examining ways to improve the health of the communities for the Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia.

As always, we are very careful to protect your privacy. Responses will be reviewed anonymously and data will be presented in aggregate form only.

This calls to mind the WSJ article a few months back about how 49,000 Wikipedia volunteer editors stopped editing in the first quarter of 2009 (compared to a net loss of 4,900 in during the same period in 2008). Frustration with overzealous editors rejecting work is cited as a big reason. I’ve never had that experience…I’m mostly submitted grammar and style changes which, for the most part, still remain. Also, wikipedia has just become so solid a source that it’s hard to contribute anything that feels valuable without really putting a lot of effort into it. I made a lot more edits back when proper nouns were misspelled. Now, fixing a comma splice doesn’t have the same satisfaction.

The survey’s questions:

1: When did you start editing?

2: When did you make your last edit?

3: During your time as an active editor, roughly how many edits did you make in a typical month?

4: *Why did you start contributing to Wikipedia?
# I saw a typo or small error and wanted to fix it
# There was information that I wanted to add
# I like the idea of volunteering to share knowledge
# I enjoy researching and writing
# I was assigned to do it (e.g., by work or school)
# I wanted to test Wikipedia to see if it was really open for anyone to edit
# Friends of mine were doing it

: * Why did you stop contributing to Wikipedia?
Check at most 3 answers

* I had other commitments (e.g. new job, new hobbies, started a family).
* I contributed enough information to improve the articles I was interested in.
* Writing an encyclopedic article is difficult and/or time consuming.
* Editing and maintaining articles takes too much time for me.
* Wikipedia is too confusing.
* I felt that I was often working alone, with little feedback or support.
* I found the atmosphere unpleasant.
* Some editors made Wikipedia a difficult place to work.
* I haven’t stopped contributing.
* Other:

6: At the time of your last edit, did you personally feel like you still had a lot to add to the Wikipedia?

7: What was your most rewarding experience with Wikipedia? Why?

8: What was your worst experience with Wikipedia? Why?
(Answers will be kept anonymous and no action will be taken. This is for survey purposes only.)

9: *Did the difficulty of the work have an impact on your decision to stop contributing?
Check at most 3 answers

* Yes. Writing an article is too difficult, or too much work.
* Yes. I had difficulties with the editing interface.
* Yes. I had difficulties with the discussion interface.
* Yes. Watching and maintaining multiple articles was difficult/took too much time.
* Yes. I had trouble understanding the rules about Wikipedia content.
* Yes. I had trouble understanding the rules about volunteer behavior.
* No. Complexity was not a major reason in my decision to leave.
* No. I haven’t stopped contributing.

10: Did the community have an impact on your decision stop contributing?
Check at most 3 answers

* Yes. I asked for help, but did not receive the help that I needed.
* Yes. I did not receive much feedback or appreciation for my work.
* Yes. I was warned or sanctioned and decided to leave.
* Yes. It took too much time to discuss content and build support for changes.
* Yes. Several editors were rude to either me or my peers.
* Yes. Several editors were too stubborn and/or difficult to work with.
* Yes. My work kept on being undone.
* No. The community was not a major reason in my decision to leave.
* No. I haven’t stopped contributing.
* Other:

11: *On a scale of 1-5, how likely are you to start contributing again?

12: Please read the following statements and select all that you believe are TRUE.

Check any that apply

* I stopped contributing because of something that happened in my life: it had nothing much to do with Wikipedia.
* I regret that I had to stop editing Wikipedia.
* When I think back on my time editing Wikipedia, I feel anger, frustration, or other unpleasant emotions.
* I would (or do) tell my friends to consider editing Wikipedia.
* I think I am very different from the typical Wikipedia editor.
* I will never edit Wikipedia again.
* I hope one day to edit again, if changes in my personal or work circumstances make that possible for me.
* I hope one day to edit again, if changes at Wikipedia make that possible for me.

13: Is there anything else you would like us to know?

14: What is your Wikipedia username? (Optional)

15: *Would you be willing to have someone contact you for a 10-minute phone call or online chat to further discuss your experience with Wikipedia?

I’m guessing that the “Wikimedia Community Health Task Force” is a new initiative, as a google search for that term brings up this blog entry as the first result.

I'm a programmer journalist, currently teaching computational journalism at Stanford University. I'm trying to do my new blogging at blog.danwin.com.