Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Who participates? The many and the few

September 18th, 2007 by Seb Chan

Who is really participating on so-called ‘social media’ websites? Research at both the academic and the market research level continues to probe this question.

Firstly, there is a fascinating paper titled ‘Power of the Few vs. Wisdom of the Crowd: Wikipedia and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie ‘ by Kittur, Chi, Pendlteon, Suh and Mytkowicz presented at SigGraph 2007 that looks at the changes in contribution trends to Wikipedia and charts the declining influence of an elite cabal of admins, and then compares this to behaviour on del.icio.us.

In this paper, we show that the story is more complex than explanations offered before. In the beginning, elite users contributed the majority of the work in Wikipedia. However, beginning in 2004 there was a dramatic shift in the distribution of work to the common users, with a corresponding decline in the influence of the elite. These results did not depend on whether work was measured by edits or by actual change in content, though the content analysis showed that elite users add more words per edit than novice users (who on average remove more words than they added).

This paper’s research contributes to Wilkinson and Huberman’s ‘Assessing the value of cooperation in Wikipedia‘ at First Monday (from April) which asserts that there is a significant correlation between article quality and number of edits.

Then over at the McKinsey Quarterly this month (requires a free registration), McKinsey presents their comparatively small-scale research (573 users) from Germany to examine some of the potential lessons from why Germans upload content to video sharing sites.

Few companies, however, have a clear understanding of what inspires users to contribute to such sites. Executives might start by looking to the world of online video sharing, another fast-growing test bed for participation. McKinsey research conducted in Germany finds that motives such as a desire for fame and a feeling of identification with a community encourage collaboration and participation. Such findings, we believe, offer insights into the way companies might tailor their Web 2.0 offerings.

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