Wikipedia Full of Disagreeable Sourpusses Who Are Closed to New Ideas

Recently I noted Twitter hype punctured by a study that found Twitter users to be self-obsessed. Today Nicholas Carr points to New Scientest and a report that finds Wikipedians are generally “grumpy,” “disagreeable,” and “closed to new ideas.”

Forget altruism:

wikipedialogo.gif[T]he scholars paint a picture of Wikipedians as social maladapts who “feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than they do off-line” and who score poorly on measures of “agreeableness and openness.” Noting that the findings seem in conflict with public perceptions, the researchers suggest that “the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives … which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.”

The researchers also looked at gender differences among Wikipedians. They found that the women who contribute to the online encyclopedia exhibit unusually high levels of introversion. Women in particular, they suggest, “seem to use the Internet as a compensative tool” that allows them to “express themselves” in a way “they find difficult in the offline world.”

And what about those YouTubers?

The study is consistent with other research into the motivations underlying online social production. Last year, researchers at HP Labs undertook an extensive study of why people upload videos to YouTube. They found that contributors are primarily driven by a craving for attention. If the videos they upload aren’t clicked on, they tend to quickly exit the “community.” YouTubers view their contributions not as pieces of “a digital commons” but as “private goods” that are “paid for by attention.”

Carr says none of it is particularly surprising, but he seems to revel in the findings, suggesting that “Social production” might more accurately be termed “antisocial production.”

While I agree that techno-utopians are over the top, I’m not sure the point proves anything. The whole genius of the free market and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and even democracy itself is that they aggregate individual self-interest to some greater good.

If Wikipedia and YouTube and Twitter turn antisocial attention-craving into something more, I’m all for it. It’s not like those who choose the prosocial route of Hollywood or Big Business or Big Government have any altruism about them. Technological developments are always ushered in with such bluster. I rather enjoy it.

RELATED: You may have noticed that Wikipedia turns up in Google news results. Here’s why. And Wikipedia went down, too, in the rush of traffic on news of Michael Jackson’s death. His entry set the record as having the highest traffic in the eight-year history of the online encyclopedia.

LATER — Drawing on Wikipedia cost Google this one:

Oops. Bad, Google. Occasionally the service inserts direct answers to searches at the top of its results. It makes guesses at this, and in the case of michael jackson died, it’s making the wrong guess…Google’s showing that Michael Jackson died in 2007, at age 65. The problem? Google’s drawing on Wikipedia and picking the wrong Michael Jackson, the writer rather than the King Of Pop.



  1. I wonder when all you hip Web 2.0 bloggers are going to realize that Wikipedia Review is a timely source of ideas and information regarding all things Wikipedia. For example, we were talking about this exact issue about six months ago:… …Well before Nicholas Carr or Joe Windish decided it was worthy of discussion.

  2. I'd heard of this study earlier, and it seems to be one of those studies that's interesting in theory, but probably useless in practice. Seeing that people outside the Wikipedia community are interested in it, I decided to take a look.

    The first thing that jumps out at me is that the report does not describe how the participants were found—the closest thing to a hint is that “[t]he data were collected via online questionnaires”. This does not inspire confidence. From the news I've heard, it's my understanding that it collected (mostly?) Israelis; this calls into question whether Israelis, Israeli Wikipedians, or Israeli non-Wikipedians are representative of the wider community (and non-community). I suspect that it is not representative, not to mention the small sample size.

    The second thing that jumps out at me is that if you look at the data table provided in the report, Wikipedians scored *higher* on the openness trait. The table gives a mean score of 3.75 for male Wikipedians (SD 0.63) compared with a mean score of 3.55 for male non-Wikipedians (SD 0.51), and a mean score of 3.92 for female Wikipedians (SD 0.38) compared with 3.64 (SD 0.59) for female non-Wikipedians. There's clearly a major error here, given that the paper is claiming, in its conclusion, that Wikipedians have less openness.

    This may have been caused by what appears to be a copy-and-paste error evident in the text. Below the text reading “the average of the agreeableness trait among the Wikipedia members is significantly lower as compared with that of participants who are not Wikipedia members” the text mentions “In addition, a significant difference was found in the openness trait […]” followed by a verbatim copy of the previous text regarding agreeableness—an incongruous phrasing, to say the least! :)

    This paper looks to be a trainwreck: when the conclusion is not supported by the data published in the paper, with such an elementary mistake in the text, the paper fails to be convincing. The fact that the sample is probably not representative of the population to be studied is also troubling.

    I'd find it interesting if Wikipedians did overall score much differently—and I'd find it further interesting if Wikipedians were markedly different from the denizens of other Internet fora—but this study simply doesn't inspire confidence at a basic level, let alone one worthy of rigorous peer review.

    (Disclosure: I am a volunteer administrator on Wikipedia.)

    P.S. As far as I can tell, no one on the Wikipedia Review has noticed this basic error, despite a number of snarky anti-Wikipedia comments. Surely that says something about the quality of the discussion there, thekohser, that I need not put into words. ;)

  3. I am sorry – but your response – in and of itself Violates the Wikipedia standards

    For You thekohser – obviously have a conflict of interest.

    While your haughtier also makes the very case in point.


  4. These studies are a cruel trap, aren't they? If the wikipedians dare to be just a tad pissed off that they've been called anti-social disagreeable introverts and express this, the response will inevitably be “See, it's true, they're disagreeable!”. Any online atheist knows this trap; atheists are called amoral, lost, depressive angry people on a given article. Comments from outraged atheists ensue and said comments are used to “prove” the point of the article itself.

    Note that I've no idea whether there is any merit in the study itself, but it sort of belongs in the “guilty if accused file”.

    Last year, researchers at HP Labs undertook an extensive study of why people upload videos to YouTube. They found that contributors are primarily driven by a craving for attention.

    (sarcasm)Wow, that must have been hard to figure out!!! People create videos because of a desire for other people to see them? That's incredible!(/sarcasm)

    I've been a member of a certain niche of the YT community for some time now. I've never made videos, but maybe some day I will. If I decide to actually do the (very hard) work of properly editing and creating material I will most certainly hope SOMEONE will see it. If I saw no one is interested, I'd probably go back to lurking and keeping up with my 20 or so subscriptions. That wouldn't be “exiting”, simply not making videos because no one is looking at them. It's completely natural and totally undeserving of the contemptuous “they just want attention!” spin.

    There are attention whores on YT, by the battalion. There are people there to do little more than videochat, and people who make up fake drama and people who show their cats by the millions. There are also people who work their asses off to provide good content. If you worked to create content and no one was watching, I'd wager you might also decide your time would be better spent on other endeavors.

  5. I have to admit, as someone who found searching, editing and researching articles to be fun, my interactions with other Wikipedians has been disappointing. Before rising to the defense (oh no! we're being attacked in a mediocre study!) I wish Wikipedians should take a good hard look at the organization and ask how they could change or moderate the influence of such negative factors. Surely they could do a better job at getting contributors to work together instead of starting edit wars, or working in isolation.

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