The Motivations of Contributors to Wikipedia by Stacey Kuznetsov takes a sociological approach to explain which incentives drive people to contribute to the World’s largest collaboration project.

The empirical research she conducted illustrated:

  • 48.89% of respondents indicated that the main reason they are willing to contribute to Wikipedia is to “educate humanity/raise awareness”
  • 17.78% “feel like I’m making a difference”
  • 15.56% “to give back to the Wikipedia community”
  • Remaining participants selected selfish reasons such as the desire to “establish a credible online reputation for myself” or to “brag to my friends”.

Thus, Stacey draws the next conclusion:

“This data indicates that respondents are willing to contribute to Wikipedia because they want to share information, as well as to reciprocate to the Wikipedia community and acquire a sense of satisfaction from contributing”.

She also explains the values that underlie these motivations:

  • Altruism
  • Reciprocity
  • Reputation
  • Autonomy
  • Community

Stacey points that willingness to contribute to Wikipedia correlates with respondents’ frequency of Wikipedia use. Less than 15% of respondents who rarely used Wikipedia (once or twice in their lives) indicated that they were willing to add information to an existing article or create new articles. However, as many as 50% of the weekly and daily users indicated that they were willing to add information and create articles.

As for me, this survey represents the behavior of the specific narrow group of respondents and cannot be considered as a general rule for all the audiences. According to Clay Shirky there is a huge imbalance of contributions-per-user to Wikipedia (Here comes everybody, p. 124-125). He claims that fewer than 2 percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute. The same power law distribution applied to modern economics by Chris Anderson works over here…

Looks like there is a contradiction between the article and Shirky’s book, especially at a first glance. However, most likely, there is just a huge distinction between the number of users claiming their willingness to contribute and the number of users doing the actual editing and creating articles.