Best Wikipedia pages edited over and over
By Stephen Pincock for ABC Science Online
The best quality articles on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia anyone can edit, are those that have been edited often by a lot of different people, new research shows.
The study, published on the arXiv website, shows the power of cooperation in building a site that has seen 236 million edits by 5.77 million different contributors since it was started in 2001.
Dennis Wilkinson and Bernardo Huberman from the Hewlett Packard Information Dynamics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, studied the editing dynamics of Wikipedia articles.
In their study, the researchers counted the number of edits and contributors for 1,211 featured articles on the English-language Wikipedia and compared them with the same figures for other English-language articles on the site.
Featured articles are selected by the people who contribute to the Wikipedia community as being the best articles on the site, based on criteria such as accuracy, completeness, neutrality and style.
The first thing they found was that the number of times articles are edited is not random.
Instead there are a small proportion of highly visible or relevant articles that are edited often, while others are edited less often.
Second, the researchers found that the high quality articles are edited more often, and by more people than other articles.
"Wikipedia article quality continues to increase, on average, as the number of collaborators and the number of edits increases," the researchers wrote.
Maureen Henninger, a senior lecturer in information and knowledge management at Australia's University of Technology in Sydney, says this is an interesting piece of research.
"Probably the fact that something is constantly being edited means someone is always looking at it and making sure it improves," she said.
Deb Polson from the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design agrees.
"Any information that is read and tweaked by people from different perspectives all the time will inevitably get better," she said.
Although Mr Wilkinson and Mr Huberman say that collaborations do not always produce good results, their study shows that for Wikipedia, it seems that too many cooks are not spoiling the broth.
In fact, they say the correlation between article quality and number of edits validates Wikipedia as a successful collaborative effort.
Ms Polson cautions that may be so, but it does not necessarily validate it as a place to go for the truth on everything.
"Wikipedia is a great first stop for someone trying to find out about a new topic," she said.
"But as a lecturer I would encourage my students to back it up with other sources."