Wikipedia and the meaning of social networks

Some insights why people work for the Wikipedia for free and how the Wikipedia handles different opinions on topics.

Wikipedia is one of the most successful sites on the World Wide Web. The power of Wikipedia derives from its users, who generate voluntary content. It is fascinating that so many people work so hard and for free at this project. So I will explore what are the motivations to work on the Wikipedia and how they make decisions and discuss problems.


My first question is: What are the motivations to work on Wikipedia?

And the second question is: How the adjust the different opinions and make a solid decision?


What are the motivations to work on Wikipedia?

Christian Stegbauer is a German sociologist. He tried to explain these two questions through a network analysis. He pointed out that sociologist normally have two reasons for the motivation to work on Wikipedia: the so-called general reciprocity and the ideology behind Wikipedia. General reciprocity means that people, if they often use the Wikipedia, profit from it, and imagine that someone else put a lot of work into it – they are more willing to give the public something back.

The second reason is the ideology behind Wikipedia. Probably, some people are motivated by the idea that everyone should have free access to the world’s knowledge, and that the knowledge is presented without restrict copyrights. Of course, these are good reasons for the motivations of users, but are they enough to work on the Wikipedia, even over years?

Stegbauer add another reason: Users are motivated through a social embedment. Persons develop identities through the positions they have in certain social relations. With time, users “earn” a position in the Wikipedia, from that position derives responsibility and other people also expect you to behave in a certain way. That could be a very motivating factor.

How does Wikipedia adjust different opinions and make a solid decision?

In the Wikipedia, every article has its discussion board. Stegbauer researched the development of the article about “logic” in the German Wikipedia. He pointed out that one user was the central figure for coordination of what is going to happen with the article. The user got this central position because of another very prominent Wikipedia user. This prominent user encouraged him to take over and he also supported him against another user, who also tried to take over the opinion leadership. So, we can say, if you are well-known within the Wikipedia, and you are competent about a certain area, and you have the support of other respected users, your possibilities to influence certain articles are much higher. The Wikipedia has a formal hierarchy with administrators and so on and an informal hierarchy. Nevertheless, the Wikipedia has a very flat hierarchy compared, for example, with the structure of companies.


Source: STEGBAUER, Christian: Wikipedia und die Bedeutung der sozialen Netzwerke. Netzwerkanalyse liefert Einblicke, wie soziale Prozesse das Handeln Einzelner bestimmen. Forschung Frankfurt 2-2008.