The reach and richness of Wikipedia
First Monday

The reach and richness of Wikipedia: Is Wikinomics only for rich countries? by Morten Rask



Abstract
This study examined the impact of technological and economic factors on the global diffusion of Wikinomics among developed and developing countries. Examining different language editions of Wikipedia, this study found significant correlation between a variety of socio–economic factors and involvement in Wikipedia.

Contents

Introduction
Challenging the glittering promises of Wikinomics
Reach and richness in Wikipedia
Human Development Index
Internet penetration
Data
Findings
Conclusion and implications
Limitations and suggestions for further research

 


 

Introduction

If Microsoft is an icon of the global development of an information technology–based society and if Amazon and eBay are icons of global e–commerce, Wikipedia is rapidly becoming a global icon of Web 2.0. Wikipedia is often used as an exemplar of Web 2.0, compared to Encyclopædia Britannica Online as an example of Web 1.0 (Baumann, 2006; Benkler, 2006; O’Reilly, 2005; Tapscott and Williams, 2006). Britannica Online content is written, edited, and published by a select group of experts, in much the same way traditional scholarly books are published. In Wikipedia, there are few restrictions on contributors and anyone can access it for free. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia created by user–added content altered on a continuous basis. Before Web 2.0, the exchange of encyclopedic information was mostly one–way.

However, because of openness, peer production and global interaction and cooperation — characteristics of Web 2.0 — Wikipedia’s content has been closely followed and analyzed. For example, there has been a lively debate about the accuracy of the entries in Wikipedia (Economist, 2006a; Economist, 2006b; Economist, 2006c; Economist, 2006d; Giles, 2005; Korfiatis, et al., 2006; Tumlin, et al., 2007). The general dispute has focused on the accuracy of entries created by “amateurs” compared to articles on the same topics created by “experts” as well their currency and objectivity (Anderson, 2006; Benkler, 2006). Wikipedia (2006) itself notes: “As with any community–built reference, there is a possibility for error in Wikipedia’s content — please check your facts against multiple sources and read our disclaimers for more information.” Therefore suggestions for increasing the number of references and citations to open access research — to improve the authority of Wikipedia articles — have been put forward (Willinsky, 2007).

Participation is critical to the success of any Web 2.0 application (Dye, 2007). A recent study on Wikipedia found cultural differences in content, “suggest[ing] that cultural differences that are observed in the physical world also exist in the virtual world” (Pfeil, et al., 2006). In other words, there is reason to believe that not all have equal opportunities to participate in Wikis. To investigate levels of participation in Wikipedia we have chosen to compare Wikipedia editions created in developed countries with those created in developing countries because participation from developing countries should uneven due to a variety of technological and economic macro–environmental factors (Kraemer, et al., 2006).

 

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Challenging the glittering promises of Wikinomics

A Web 2.0 application such as Wikipedia should redefine the notion of technological and economic macro–environmental constraints. Over the last decade, there have been many claims that information and communication technologies will propel developing countries out of poverty. The Digital Age will decentralize, globalize, harmonize, and empower all (Negroponte, 1995) thanks to an evaporation of distance and a “flattening” of the world (Cairncross, 1997). In other words, the “playing field” becomes leveled for organizations and especially individuals from all parts of the world, resulting in more frequent and intensive collaboration and competition, benefiting all but especially those in poor, emerging, and transitional countries (Friedman, 2006). This has given rise to “a new art and science of collaboration” called Wikinomics based upon the idea that “we’re all participating in the rise of a ubiquitous platform for computation and collaboration that is,reshaping nearly every aspect of human affairs.” (Tapscott and Williams, 2006) This development has been brought about by the availability of low–cost collaborative infrastructures.

For those in poor, emerging, and transitional countries these claims sound almost too good to be true. Instead of being on the outskirts of the global economy, access to free or low–cost Internet–based content and applications makes it possible to compete and collaborate on the same level as those in developed countries. Wikipedia indeed can be the case to test these glittering promises. This study’s examination of Wikipedia may provide a clue to the use of Web 2.0 tools in developing countries, a kind of signal of economic growth as promoted by UNCTAD (2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005). It is in part a measure of the digital divide — the gap between those with regular and effective access to Wikipedia and those without. However, many have argued that improved access to ICT infrastructures does not solve the digital divide alone (Gurstein, 2003; Luyt, 2004; Potter, 2006; Pyati, 2005). Policy–making (Barzilai–Nahon, 2006) and socioeconomic factors also need to be considered.

In addition to technological and economic macro–environmental factors, the network effect of Wikipedia will also be examined in this study. This effect provides value to any contributor thanks to the cumulative effect of additional contributors subsequently editing articles. Certainly the value of a resource depends on its number of users over time (Shapiro and Varian, 1998). Individual users become evangelists of a specific service (Kelly, 1997; Kelly, 1998). In Wikipedia, the network effects are simple. More contributors mean more interaction, in turn stimulating more articles and leading to more editing, which in turn attracts even more contributors. In other words, reach — or the number of contributors — and richness — or edits per article — are expressions of network effects.

An examination of the reach and richness of Wikipedia may provide some clues about the impact of technological and economic factors on the global diffusion of Web 2.0 applications. Is Wikinomics only for developed countries?

 

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Reach and richness in Wikipedia

In a variety of languages, Wikipedia consists of two interconnected networked layers, namely for articles and contributors (Korfiatis, et al., 2006) where articles represent contributions created and edited by contributors. The two layers are interconnected in collaborative editing activities, because Wikipedia depends on the self–conscious use of open discussions aimed at reaching agreements on specific terms and subjects (Benkler, 2006). Because the reach of the network is defined as the number of people exchanging information (Evans and Wurster, 1997), we can define the reach of Wikipedia as the number of contributors, which in turn reflects diversity (Lih, 2004). Evan and Wurster’s (1997) definition of richness is based on three aspects of information — bandwidth, customization and interactivity. Collaborative editing improves the richness of information thanks to interactive customization. To create a metric of richness, we examined the number of edits per article. This is also called the scrutiny or rigor metric because editing cycles of articles provide a more firm review of content (Lih, 2004) — similar to Wilkinson and Huberman’s (2007) definition of quality in a Wikipedia article. Hence, we define the richness in the Wikipedia as the amount of edits per article. Therefore we think that we will find a linear relationship between reach and richness because more contributors mean more interaction in terms of more articles. In turn, more editing will attract more contributors.

Hypothesis 1: There is a linear relationship among the number of contributors and the amount of edits per article

Additionally, interaction over time is an expression of network effects. In terms of Wikipedia, an older network will have more contributors than a younger network; therefore the reach of the network will increase over time. With greater reach and longevity, more contributors will find it worthwhile to participate in something with demonstrated durability.

Hypothesis 2: There is a linear relationship among the number of contributors and the number of days of operation

 

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Human Development Index

As an economic factor we use the Human Development Index (HDI), which “is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living for countries worldwide ... . It is used to determine and indicate whether a country is a developed, developing, or underdeveloped country and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life ... and has been used since 1993 by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual Human Development Report.” (Wikipedia, 2007c). We use this index to distinguish between developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries and as a proxy for the level of human development in a given state.

The richness of Wikipedia is expected to correlate with levels of human development. It can be argued that higher levels of literacy, education, and standard of living in a given country will allow individuals to he better equipped as contributors and editors. In turn, an increase in the number of edited articles and editing itself serves as a proxy for enhanced levels of literacy, education, and standard of living in a given state.

Hypothesis 3: There is a linear relationship among the amount of edits per article and the Human Development Index

The reach of Wikipedia is also is expected to correlate with levels of human development. With higher levels of literacy and education as well as improved standards of living, there will be greater opportunities for contributors. In turn, the more contributors enhance their skills and knowledge by editing, the greater the chance is that these contributors will collectively enhance levels of literacy, education, and standard of living in a given country.

Hypothesis 4: There is a linear relationship among the number of contributors and the Human Development Index

 

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Internet penetration

As a technological factor we use Internet penetration, defined as the number of Internet users per 100 inhabitants. Wikipedia evangelists simply state that Wikipedia makes “anyone with an Internet connection a potential resource” (Baumann, 2006), to participate and contribute because “all one needs is a computer, a network connection, and a bright spark of initiative and creativity to join in the economy” (Tapscott and Williams, 2006). Wikipedia’s promise of the liberation of human knowledge is for “everybody who has access to the Internet” (Economist, 2006d). Therefore we can expect that with greater Internet penetration, it is more likely that there will be greater numbers of contributors.

Hypothesis 5: There is a linear relationship among the number of contributors and Internet penetration

The Internet is accessible to approximately 15 percent of the world’s population (International Telecommunications Union, 2006). UNCTAD (2005) reports that, while in some developing countries the number of Internet users has grown substantially, overall the gap between developed and developing countries remains wide. However, UNCTAD (2001; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005) has encouraged developing countries to take advantage of ICT in order to improve economic growth. We might expect a correlation between degree of development and Internet penetration.

Hypothesis 6: There is a linear relationship between Internet penetration and the Human Development Index

 

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Data

In this paper, we assume that Wikipedia is a global network of new media, fundamentally a modern form of cultural expression and public opinion. Normally, language is understood as the most important platform for cultural expression and public opinion (Hollensen, 2004; Usunier, 2005). We define Wikipedia, at the start of 2007, as consisting of 182 networks because it is available in 182 active editions/languages (Wikipedia, 2007e). With the aim of understanding the possibilities for poor, emerging, and transitional countries gaining access to shared knowledge at the same level as developed countries, 11 countries have been included in the sample from among the 182 active Wikipedia editions/languages (Wikipedia, 2007e).

We have chosen to select from 12 of the most rapidly developing economies: Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Thailand and Turkey (Aguiar, et al., 2006). However, some countries — Brazil, China, Mexico and India — were not selected. We felt that the languages of these countries are not unique to each country alone. For comparison’s sake we included Japan, Germany and Denmark in the sample because these highly developed countries have their own — more or less — exclusive official language.

Table 1 gives an overview of the 11 Wikipedia editions/languages included in this study and related analytical variables.

 

Table 1: Characteristics of the 11 Wikipedia editions/languages included in this study.
CountryLanguageCreation date
(Zachte, 2007a)
Number of speakers of a given language
[in millions]
(Wikipedia, 2007d)
HDI
(UNDP, 2006)
Internet users
[per 100 inhabitants as of 2005]
(ITU, 2006)
Contributors
(Zachte, 2007a)
Edits per article
(Zachte, 2007b)
Czech RepublicCzech2002–1112.00.88549.97155414.0
DenmarkDanish2002–025.30.94352.55134915.2
GermanyGerman2001–05100.10.93245.35389533.5
HungaryHungarian2003–0714.50.86929.71124716.8
IndonesiaIndonesian2003–05163.00.7117.186487.7
JapanJapanese2002–09125.00.94950.21378726.3
MalaysiaMalay2002–1023.60.80536.962138.7
PolandPolish2001–0944.00.86225.95716213.7
RussiaRussian2002–11167.00.79715.19426215.2
ThailandThai2003–0346.10.78411.0355615.0
TurkeyTurkish2002–1261.00.75721.86174914.0

 

We use Wikipedia data to analyze diffusion. When measuring the relative differences between the different Wikipedia languages, data generated on a monthly basis by Wikimedia (Zachte, 2006) are used, namely edits per article as a proxy for richness and the number of contributors as a proxy for the reach of the network, where contributors are Wikipedians who have edited at least 10 times; edits per article are the mean number of revisions per article.

In order to understand the reach and richness of Wikipedia networks, longevity is measure as the number of days of operation from the creation date of a given Wikipedia edition to 1 March 2007. In order to recognize the limitations of reach and richness of Wikipedia networks, the number of speakers of a given language under investigation is a delimiter in itself. Therefore, Wikipedia penetration rate has been calculated as the number of contributors per one million speakers.

 

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Findings

In order to understand the relationships among the different dimensions, a simple correlation analysis was the basis for an analysis of patterns of correlation in Wikipedia (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Patterns of correlation in Wikipedia
 
Figure 1: Patterns of correlation in Wikipedia.
Note: *Correlation coefficient is significant at the 0.05 level (2–tailed).
**Correlation coefficient is significant at the 0.01 level (2–tailed).

 

All of the hypotheses were verified by analysis of correlation patterns in Wikipedia for reach, richness, related network effects and macro–environmental factors.

First of all, we find a linear relationship between reach and richness so we can confirm more contributors mean more interaction in terms of more articles. Therefore, more editing will attract more contributors. In regards to network effects, we also find a very strong relationship between longevity and reach, which seems natural because an older Wikipedia network will have more contributors because the network had demostrated durability over time. Besides the linear relationship with reach, the richness of Wikipedia is correlated with levels of human development. The higher the level of literacy, education, and standard of living in a given country, the more likely a given contributor from that country will contribute to Wikipedia. Vice versa, we might argue that an increase in the number of edits of articles has effects on the levels of literacy, education, and standard of living in a given country. A similar argument can be made for the impact of this factor on reach.

Figure 1 illustrates that investing in technological infrastructure is not solely sufficient. Although there is a linear relationship between the Internet penetration and reach of Wikipedia, there is a stronger linear relationship between the level of human development and Internet penetration. All things considered, the level of human development is a strong contributing factor, more significant than technological factors alone. Economics factors, such as literacy, education, and the standard of living, are also important.

 

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Conclusion and implications

In spite of some claims, Wikipedia is generally more suitable for participants from developed countries. However, participants from less developed countries can benefit from involvement in Wikipedia. These findings contradict some of the promises (Cairncross, 1997; Friedman, 2006; Negroponte, 1995) discussed earlier in the paper. In contrast to some of the enthusiasm for Wikipedia — where only an Internet connection is a precondition for participation (Baumann, 2006; Economist, 2006d; Tapscott and Williams, 2006) — we conclude that an adequate technological infrastructure is not sufficient alone. These findings agree with earlier studies that recognized the importance of socioeconomic and other factors in e–business (Bouwman, 1999; Doern and Fey, 2006; Fesenmaier and van Es, 1999; Kraemer, et al., 2006; Steinfield and Klein, 1999; Steinfield, et al., 1999) and e–policy–making (Barzilai–Nahon, 2006; Kraemer, et al., 2006). For policy–makers, investments in technological infrastructure are not solely significant, but need to be considered along with improvements in literacy, education, and standard of living. For some businesses and other organizations, an examination of Wikipedia in specific markets can be useful as a screening and monitoring model.

 

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Limitations and suggestions for further research

This study is exploratory, using only a small sample of 11 Wikipedia editions. As such, the findings should be further verified by a more detailed analysis with a larger sample, preferable as a longitudinal study. Additionally, our correction of language and country is another limitation. Wikipedia does not categorize different language editions by countries or nation–states. There is not necessarily a correlation between nation–states and languages. In fact, Ohmae (2005) argues that “it is a misfortune that language has become tied so intimately to the nation–state.” However macro–environmental variables are categorized by countries, so we selected countries for this study with what we felt were exclusive languages.

Many of the most developed Wikipedia networks are based upon languages that are not exclusive to one country; we were not able to analyze these. It is particularly paradoxical that the English version of Wikipedia, being the far most comprehensive edition, consists of almost half of the total Wikipedia network. English is “the lingua franca of the global economy and the de facto standard in cyberspace” (Ohmae, 2005). However, “it does not mean that the appeal of operating globally removes the obligation to localize” (Ohmae, 1989). Additionally, it can also be argued that “the wider the reach, the greater the number of regional and national preferences will encounter ... . The differences that persist throughout the world despite its globalization affirm an ancient dictum of economies — that things are driven by what happens at the margin, not at the core” (Levitt, 1983). Altogether, there is a need for further research which investigates the relationship between language and country of origin in social networks like Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 applications.

There is no doubt that language is an important identity for social networks when social networks are understood as global networks of the new media. Hence further research is needed to investigate the relationship between different language versions of Wikipedia and corresponding cultural identities and differences (Hall, 1968; Hofstede, 1984; Hofstede, 1994; Hofstede, 2006).

Regulatory, legal and policy–related issues effecting the use of Internet (Kraemer, et al., 2006) could also have an impact on the global diffusion of applications such as Wikipedia. Wikipedia has been blocked on some occasions in, for example, China, Iran and Tunisia (Wikipedia, 2007a; Wikipedia, 2007b). There is a need for research about the impact of political factors on applications like Wikipedia, to see for example if there is a relationship between different Wikipedia editions and a corresponding democracy index (Kekic, 2007). Furthermore, other social networks could be investigated in order to strengthen our understanding of reach and richness. In this way, we could determine if the findings of this study are exclusive to Wikipedia. End of article

 

About the author

Morten Rask is an Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University in Denmark. His research focuses on the global dimension of marketing, purchasing and supply management, e–markets, e–commerce and m–commerce.
E–mail: mr [at] morten–rask [dot] dk

 

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was published in the Proceedings of the Joint Conference of The International Society of Marketing Development and the Macromarketing Society (2–5 June 2007); see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=996158.

 

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Editorial history

Paper received 11 August 2007; accepted 2 December 2007.


Copyright © 2008, First Monday.

Copyright © 2008, Morten Rask.

The reach and richness of Wikipedia: Is Wikinomics only for rich countries?
by Morten Rask
First Monday, Volume 13 Number 6 - 2 June 2008
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2046/1970





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