Motivations for Contributing to Health-Related Articles on Wikipedia: An Interview Study

Nuša Farič* Henry Ww Potts*
Nuša Farič*, Institute for Epidemiology & Health Care, UCL, London, United Kingdom
Henry Ww Potts*, Centre for Health Informatics & Multiprofessional Education, University College London, London, United Kingdom

Track: Research
Presentation Topic: Wikis
Presentation Type: Poster presentation
Submission Type: Single Presentation

Last modified: 2013-09-25

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Background: Wikipedia, the encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most accessed sources of health information online. The English-language Wikipedia currently contains 4.1 million articles with over 25,000 articles pertaining to health.

Objective: To characterise individuals’ motivations for contributing to health-related content on the English-language Wikipedia.

Methods: A set of health-related articles were randomly selected and recent editors invited to complete an online questionnaire and a follow-up interview asking them about their experiences and motivations (by Skype, by e-mail or face-to-face). Interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis and a grounded theory approach.

Results: Thirty-two Wikipedians (31 men) completed the questionnaire and 16 were interviewed. Those completing the questionnaire had a mean age of 39 (range: 12-59). 15 were currently working in a health-related field (mainly as clinicians). The median period for which they had been active editing Wikipedia was 3-5 years. 12 were in the USA, 6 in the UK and the rest from another 9 countries. 90% were also active contributors in domains other than health. Nine reported making mainly minor edits such as grammar and style, five exclusively major edits such as adding content, and 18 reported performing both types of edits.

Interviewees were identified as health professionals, professionals with specific health-interests, students, and individuals with health problems. Their motivations for contributing to health-related content were summarised in five categories: Help (wanting to improve and maintain Wikipedia); Education (learning about subjects by working on articles); Responsibility (a sense of responsibility, often a professional responsibility, to provide good quality health information to readers); Fulfilment (editing Wikipedia as a fun, relaxing, engaging and rewarding activity); and Positive Attitude to Wikipedia (belief in the value of Wikipedia). These categories are strongly inter-related and overlapping, with interviewees typically expressing several of them. An additional factor, Hostility (from some other editors), was identified that negatively affected Wikipedians’ motivations.

Conclusions: Wikpedia’s health-related content is built by a roughly equal proportion of health specialists and lay people. They are not representative of the general population. It became apparent that the community who most actively monitor and contribute to health-related articles is relatively small. While some editors correspond to a model of “knowledge philanthropists”, others importantly focused on maintaining articles (improving spelling and grammar, organisation, and handling vandalism).

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