Quality of Wikipedia entries depends on authors' collaboration

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 12, 2010 10:08 hrs

A new research by an Arizona University Professor of Indian origin has found that the quality of entries in Wikipedia depends on how authors collaborate.

Sudha Ram, a UA's Eller College of Management professor, co-authored the article with Jun Liu, a graduate student in the management information systems department (MIS). Their report bagged the "Best Paper Award" at the Workshop on Information Technology and Systems held in conjunction with the International Conference on Information Systems, or ICIS.

Ram, a McClelland Professor of MIS in the Eller College, said: Most of the existing research on Wikipedia is at the aggregate level, looking at total number of edits for an article, for example, or how many unique contributors participated in its creation.

"What was missing was an explanation for why some articles are of high quality and others are not.

"We investigated the relationship between collaboration and data quality."

Wikipedia, the world's largest open-access online encyclopaedia, has an internal quality rating system for entries, with featured articles at the top, followed by A, B, and C-level entries. Ram and Liu randomly compiled 400 articles at each quality level and used a data provenance model they developed in an earlier paper.

Ram explained: "We used data mining techniques and identified various patterns of collaboration based on the provenance or, more specifically, who does what to Wikipedia articles.

"These collaboration patterns either help increase quality or are detrimental to data quality."

Ram and Liu identified seven specific roles that Wikipedia contributors play.

Starters, for instance, create sentences but seldom engage in other actions. Content justifiers create sentences and justify them with resources and links. Copy editors contribute primarily though modifying existing sentences. Some users - the all-round contributors - perform many different functions.

Ram said: "We then clustered the articles based on these roles and examined the collaboration patterns within each cluster to see what kind of quality resulted.

"We found that all-round contributors dominated the best-quality entries. In the entries with the lowest quality, starters and casual contributors dominated."

She pointed out that to generate the best-quality entries people in many different roles must collaborate.

Ram said: "A software tool could prompt contributors to justify their insertions by adding links...and down the line, other software tools could encourage specific role setting and collaboration patterns to improve overall quality."

The impetus behind the report came from Ram's involvement in UA's 50 million dollar iPlant Collaborative, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and aims to unite the international scientific community around solving plant biology's "grand challenge" questions. Ram's role is a faculty advisor and has to develop a cyberinfrastructure to facilitate collaboration.

She said: "We initially suggested wikis for this, but we faced a lot of resistance." Scientists raised concerns ranging from lack of experience using the wikis to lack of incentive.

"We wondered how we could make people collaborate.

"So we looked at the English version of Wikipedia. There are more than three million entries, and thousands of people contribute voluntarily on a daily basis."

She added: "If we want scientists to be collaborative...we need to assign them to specific roles and motivate them to police themselves and justify their contributions." (ANI)

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