Chapter 8

Understand Participant Contributions

Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean.

—Bob Dylan

When Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, was asked about his active core contributors in 2006, he said that about 500 people were responsible for creating Wikipedia. This group conducted most of the edits (that is, made changes to Wikipedia documents). Since each change is recorded on Wikipedia, it is possible to log and attribute a variety of actions to each of the participants.1

However, a Stanford student named Aaron Swartz challenged this characterization of the community. “Wales was just counting the number of edits—the number of times a user changed something and clicked save. Wouldn’t things be different if he counted the amount of text each user contributed?”2 This question really resonated with your authors. We are responsible for creating the content, but without help from our editors, this book would be much, much worse. We have the old drafts to prove it.

As community manager in chief, it was Wales’ job to understand his contributors. Surely, he knew who his main contributors were. Seems simple, except that we’re asking him to understand hundreds of thousands of participants—this is a very different problem than understanding how to work with the much smaller team on this book.

Swartz’s question about how Wales measured participation was important because it influenced how he would manage the Wikipedia site and ...

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