Individual and collaborative information behaviour of Wikipedians in the context of their involvement with Hebrew Wikipedia
Yehudit Shkolnisky Lieberman and Judit Bar-Ilan
Introduction. This study aims to uncover how Israeli Wikipedians seek, evaluate, use, choose verify and share information when writing and updating entries for the online encyclopaedia, focusing on their individual and collaborative information behaviour.
Method. This is a mixed methods study where the qualitative study preceded the quantitative study. The qualitative study consisted of in-depth semi-structured interviews with Israeli Wikipedians and a content analysis of posts published on talk pages and sandboxes, subpages and drafts, while the quantitative study's data were obtained through structured questionnaires.
Analysis. A content analysis was performed on ten random posts published on talk pages and sandboxes, subpages and drafts of forty Wikipedians. The quantitative study's data were obtained through structured questionnaires delivered to eighty Wikipedians. Data from interviews were analysed thematically by using framework analysis, and the data collected in the quantitative study were processed using descriptive statistics.
Results. Wikipedians’ varied motivations for writing create information needs that determine their information seeking behaviour and lead them to employ independent and/or collaborative information seeking methods to locate diverse information sources.
Conclusions. The study unveiled the individual and collaborative information behaviour of Israeli Wikipedians and how it supports them in their attempt to fulfil various tasks intended to help construct an important knowledge repository, Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based, free content encyclopaedia project that aspires to provide free access to the wealth of human knowledge. Public editability is among its most important characteristics. The wiki platform allows anyone (registered or anonymous) to edit and discuss the content of articles at any time (Bryant, Forte and Bruckman, 2005; Hara, Shachaf and Hew, 2010; Johnson, 2007; Mattison, 2003; Oren, Volkel, Breslin and Decker, 2006). This study aims to uncover how the individuals behind the Hebrew Wikipedia seek, evaluate, use, choose, verify and share information for expanding and updating the online encyclopaedia. To this end, we examine their individual information behaviour and collaborative information behaviour.
As the literature review will demonstrate, various studies have dealt with different aspects of Wikipedians' information behaviour, where information behaviour is the totality of human behaviour related to information (Wilson, 2000). We also studied collaborative information behaviour (i.e., when multiple users try to solve an information problem), which has not been studied previously to the best of our knowledge. This provides a holistic and comprehensive perspective on the information practices of Wikipedia contributors. We chose to study the Hebrew Wikipedia, as studies on Wikipedia focused mostly on the English Wikipedia. Since the authors of this study are Hebrew-speaking it enabled us to explore a Wikipedia in a different language.
Information behaviour and information seeking behaviour
Wilson (2000, p. 50) defined information behaviour as 'the totality of human behaviour' related to active and passive information seeking and the use of sources and channels; whilst information seeking behaviour is 'purposive seeking for information' to achieve a goal, using manual information and/or with computerised systems.
The literature discusses two principal models for selecting information: the least effort model and the cost-benefit model. According to the former (Allen, 1969, 1977; Simon, 1955), information seekers look for the information available most easily. Allen found that frequency of use is a result more of a channel's accessibility than the quality of its information. Conversely, in the cost-benefit model, information seekers assess possible costs and benefits of using an information source and make their selection; expected benefits are more important than expected costs, and quality is the primary consideration (Hardy, 1982; Orr, 1970). Savolainen (2008) introduced a more complex framework, in which informational content, availability and accessibility are major criteria for establishing preferences, which vary considerably depending on the requirements of the particular problem.
Information seeking behaviour is commonly considered a solitary activity (Fidel et al., 2000; Golovchinsky and Pickens, 2008; Golovchinsky, Pickens and Back, 2008). Therefore, most information behaviour models focus on the individual information seeker, exploring individual needs and practices (e.g., Dervin, 1992; Ellis, Cox and Hall, 1993; and Wilson 1981, 1997, 1999). However, researchers have started to recognise that information needs frequently arise from collaborative activities, and that information seeking, and use is embedded in the activities of workgroups and communities (e.g., Hansen and Widén, 2017; Hyldegård, 2006; McNeese and Reddy, 2017; Tao and Tombros 2017).
Universally-accepted definitions of collaborative information behaviour and collaborative information seeking (Reddy and Jansen, 2008b) are lacking. This paper follows Poltrock et al. (2003, p. 239) in defining collaborative information behaviour as 'activities that a group or team of people undertakes to identify and resolve a shared information need'. Collaborative information retrieval occurs when people collaborate to solve an information problem using resources beyond their own knowledge (Fidel, Pejtersen, Cleal and Bruce, 2004). Bruce et al. (2003, p. 140) define several modes of collaborative information retrieval:
(a) two or more team members following a path together to find information for a specific problem; (b) team members using different paths to find information for a specific problem, either in parallel or sequentially; and (c) team members being guided by suggestions from other team members who had found the same or similar information earlier.
Following Hansen and Järvelin (2005, p. 1102), we define collaborative information seeking as
An information access activity related to a specific problem-solving activity that, implicitly or explicitly, involves human beings interacting with other human(s) directly and/or through texts (e.g., documents, notes, figures) [used] as information sources in a work-task related information seeking and retrieval process either in a specific workplace setting or in a more open community or environment.
We also accept Golovchinsky et al.'s (2008) distinction between synchronous and asynchronous collaborative information behaviour. According to the former, groups are involved in various aspects of information seeking activity simultaneously, while the latter means that such information seeking is done separately and not at the same time (Golovchinsky, Pickens and Back, 2008).
Reddy and Jansen (2008a) developed a model of contextual triggers for collaborative information behaviour, including complex information needs, fragmented information resources, lack of domain expertise and lack of immediately accessible information (see also Karunakaran, Reddy and Spence, 2013; Reddy, Jansen and Spence, 2010; Reddy and Spence, 2008; Shah, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014).
Information behaviour of Wikipedians
The only previous study we are aware of that explicitly examined Wikipedians' information behaviour was conducted by Huvila (2010), who classified Wikipedians into five groups, based on their information source usage patterns. Although the current study does not employ this classification because of our small sample, the general results of Huvila's study were instrumental in the development of this paper.
Other studies addressed issues related to the information behaviour of Wikipedians indirectly, including their motivations for contributing. According to our analysis, some of these motivations manifest a collaborative orientation, particularly the desire to improve Wikipedia, which requires seeking information (Research..., 2013; Spinellis and Panagiotis, 2008; Stvilia, Twidale, Smith and Gasser, 2008; Sundin, 2011). The literature shows that the main activity on Wikipedia is updating existing pages, not generating new knowledge (Huvila, 2010; Raman, Ryan and Olfman, 2005; Research..., 2013).
Wikipedians' editing decisions are also motivated by personal factors (Feldstein, 2011; Goldspink, Edmonds and Gilbert, 2010; Huvila, 2010; Johnson, 2007; Krieger, Stark and Klemmer, 2009; Research..., 2013; Stvilia et al., 2008; Sundin, 2011), with curiosity and personal interest being the most common motivations for contributing (Goldspink et al., 2010; Huvila, 2010; Krieger et al., 2009; Stvilia et al., 2008; Sundin, 2011). Huvila (2010), following Savolainen (1995), claimed that the everyday interests of Wikipedians in his sample influenced their information practices, which are based on everyday information seeking. Other Wikipedians are motivated by a wish to share knowledge, as discussed by Johnson (2007) and the Wikipedia Editors Survey (Research..., 2013).
Previous studies of Wikipedians found that they frequently use Google for locating information (Huvila, 2010; Sundin, 2011), similar to the general public (comScore, 2016; Lawrence, 2015; Purcell, Brenner and Rainie, 2012; Rowlands et al., 2008; Statista, 2018). Huvila's (2010) findings indicate that Wikipedians' information behaviour includes incidental information seeking methods, as discussed by Erdelez (1997), Williamson (1998), and Savolainen (1995). Sundin (2011) asserts that Wikipedians' information practices are part of their daily lives.
Wikipedians' tendency to use Internet sites and online sources, including electronic books, journals and online newspapers (contemporary and historical) is commonly accepted in the literature (Ford, Musicant, Sen and Miller, 2013; Huvila, 2010; Koppen, Phillips and Papageorgiou, 2015; Luyt, 2012; Luyt and Tan, 2010). Despite this apparent preference for online sources, the literature reports that Wikipedians do use print materials as well (Huvila, 2010; Johnson, 2007; Luyt and Tan, 2010).
According to Sundin (2011) and Ford et al. (2013), Wikipedia explicitly discourages user-generated content, except for Wikipedia itself (Huvila, 2010). Huvila pointed out that translating and moving content from other Wikipedia language versions is a notable source of information for Wikipedians. Although the majority of Wikipedians use only formal literary sources, non-literary sources can have a major impact on individual topics and articles, especially personal knowledge and experience, photographs, audio recordings and recorded television programs. Occasionally they ask friends about the topics they are editing, and consult librarians and subject experts. Viégas (2007) and the Wikipedia Editors Survey (2013) noted Wikipedians' use of Wikimedia Commons as a repository for audio-visual information. Wikipedians' reliance on certain sources of information stems from Wikipedia's verifiability policy (Huvila, 2010; Luyt, 2015).
The present study focuses on the following research questions:
- What individual information behaviour do Israeli Wikipedians exhibit?
- Which models of selecting information apply to Israeli Wikipedians?
- Which synchronous and/or asynchronous collaborative information behaviour do Israeli Wikipedians exhibit?
This mixed-methods study employs both quantitative and qualitative approaches, to facilitate better understanding of the research problems (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2007). The qualitative study was followed by a quantitative study. The quantitative study was influenced by the qualitative study and by the literature review.
The qualitative study
The qualitative study consisted of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with twenty Israeli Wikipedians, recruited with the assistance of a person with ties in the Wikipedia community, who forwarded participation requests to other Wikipedians (snowball sample). An invitation was also posted on two appropriate Wikipedia community pages. Interviews were conducted in July-September, 2011, by phone, chat, e-mail or in person, according to interviewees' preference. Interviews lasted from thirty minutes to nearly four hours. Participants were asked open-ended questions about their information needs; information sources used for writing Wikipedia entries; selection criteria for sources; and types of collaboration during information seeking and use.
Data collection continued until saturation. The interviews were documented, recorded and transcribed. Data were analysed thematically using the framework analysis technique developed by Ritchie and Spencer (1994), allowing for both a priori and emerging concepts in the coding process (Lacey and Luff, 2001). Although framework analysis may develop theories, it differs from grounded theory in that its main concern is describing and interpreting what is happening in a particular setting (Ritchie and Spencer, 1994; Srivastava and Thomson, 2009).
Data were sorted, mapped and categorised using five stages. Familiarisation, during which the data collected (i.e., interview transcripts, various talk pages) were reviewed and thus allowed to form an initial, comprehensive view of its content. In the next stage, identifying a thematic framework, key ideas and recurrent themes began emerging from the data and an initial coding framework was developed based on a priori issues (including the research questions and major theoretical concepts), and the concepts that emerged from the previous stage. Although a priori issues guided the process, the data were not forced to fit them; rather the data themselves dictated which concepts emerged from the analysis. This thematic framework was refined during subsequent stages. In the indexing stage, the thematic framework was used to filter and classify the data. During this process, specific data that corresponded to the various themes were identified. This was followed by the charting stage in which the indexed data were lifted from their original textual context and arranged in tables by category headings and subheadings. The final stage, mapping and interpretation, involved searching for patterns, associations, and explanations within the data. Concepts were defined, the range and nature of the phenomena being studied was mapped, and an interpretation of it was developed (Lacey and Luff, 2001; Ritchie and Spencer 1994; Srivastava and Thomson, 2009).
After the first author coded the qualitative data, using these stages, it was tested for inter-coder reliability by the second author, an expert in the relevant subject areas. She used the coding scheme to code a subset (10%) of the data independently. Inter-coder reliability was high, with the average agreement between coders at approximately 90%. In cases of disagreement, the issues were discussed until agreement was reached concerning the appropriate coding of the data. This process helped refine the study's coding scheme.
The qualitative study was complemented by a content analysis of ten random posts published on the talk pages of forty active Wikipedians, and all of their sandboxes, subpages and drafts (wiki pages associated with a specific user and used mainly for drafting articles) (Help: Subpage, 2018; Wikipedia: About the sandbox, 2014). Data from wiki pages were collected during September-November, 2012. The aim of studying the texts was to check whether some aspects of information behaviour were not mentioned in the interviews.
The quantitative study
A structured questionnaire with Likert-scale and multiple-choice questions was developed, based on the findings of the qualitative study and the literature review. To check its face validity, the questionnaire was reviewed by three seasoned Wikipedians, and then revised. The final version included (a) questions regarding Wikipedians' individual and collaborative information behaviour; (b) demographic questions, including their activity on Wikipedia. The quantitative study was conducted online during January-February, 2013.
The sample was recruited by asking several participants in the qualitative study to send a link to all Wikipedians they know. This began a process of snowball sampling that also included posting invitations with a link to the questionnaire on relevant Wikipedia community pages and in a Facebook group for Wikipedians. In total, eighty Wikipedians responded to the questionnaire. The data collected in the quantitative study were processed using descriptive statistics.
The twenty interviewees in the qualitative study were eighteen males (90%) and two females (10%); ages 20-69 (M=39.3; Med=37, SD=9.2). Most of the interviewees (85%) had academic education, and were all active editors and writers of Wikipedia, with 1 to 7.5 years of experience, who dedicated 2 to 5 hours a day to the project.
The majority of respondents to the questionnaire were males (72.5%, n=58); ages 19-76 (M=39.2, SD=13.1, Med=38); with 12 to 25 years of education (M=16.8, SD=2.8); 88.7% of the participants had a bachelor's degree, or higher. Of the participants, 95.0% were editors (n=76), who have spent 1 to 3 hours daily on Wikipedia (n=53, 66.3%) for more than three years (n=60, 75.0%). They created one to two new articles per month (n=47, 58.8%), but updated existing articles at least once a day (n=56, 70.0%).
More than half (n=43, 53.8%) of the participants reported that they sometimes write or update Wikipedia entries in disciplines about which they have no formal education or expertise, while 37.5% (n=30) never work on topics related to their formal education. Only 8.7% (n=7) reported having formal education relevant to their contributions. Furthermore, 43.8% (n=35) reported no relationship between their profession and the articles they write, or that there is a relationship only in some cases (n=36, 45.0%). Only 13.7% (n=11) participants define themselves as experts in the subjects they write about on Wikipedia; 42.5% (n=34) reported no expertise, and a similar percentage (n=35, 43.8%) claimed expertise on some subjects. This interesting finding warrants further study in broader samples of Wikipedians and in different language editions of Wikipedia.
This section is structured to reflect the research process, with qualitative findings followed by analysis of the related quantitative data. The qualitative study revealed that Wikipedians' individual information behaviour is purposive and deliberate, but also serendipitous or incidental. The motivations that drive Wikipedians to write or edit an entry activate their information seeking behaviour.
Motivations for writing and editing Wikipedia entries
Israeli Wikipedians interviewed in the qualitative study spoke of both personal and collaborative motivations for writing; sometimes in combination. Motivations with a personal orientation begin with personal interest and real curiosity about a topic: 'I only like to write about things that really interest me and what I truly enjoy' (Interviewee No. 3). Others desire to share personal experiences, e.g., write articles on books they have read; on movies, lectures and musical performances they attended, or places they visited, and issues related to their work: 'I expanded and added entries on various subjects that I encountered: movies that I saw, books that I read' (User No. 25's user page). Sometimes, the decision to write is spur-of-the-moment: 'In most cases, the decision to write or update an entry is rather spontaneous' (Interviewee No. 15).
Collaborative motivations focus on the cooperative project and what is required to improve it. Such motivations include the desire to improve existing articles and/or add new articles to Wikipedia. Expanding and updating existing articles is more common than adding new ones: ‘It is important to emphasize… I haven’t measured but seems to me that most of the work is... expand[ing] existing entries' (Interviewee No. 14). Others are motivated to complete the coverage of a subject area: ‘I write entries in an attempt to cover a certain field in an orderly way (Interviewee No. 9). Complying with requests or suggestions from other Wikipedians also motivates the writing of articles.
The questionnaire asked participants to indicate the reasons that cause them to write or edit entries. Figure 1 tabulates the responses. Please note, participants were allowed to choose more than one option for some questions, so the percentages in Figures 1 to 3 do not add up to 100%.
Figure 1 shows that almost all respondents (95.0%) reported that personal interest and curiosity are the main reasons for writing or editing Wikipedia entries. Collaborative motivations are also important, supporting the qualitative findings. More than half of the respondents revealed that spontaneous or impulsive decisions lead them to write or update Wikipedia entries.
Information seeking methods
The majority of interviews and wiki pages attest that Google (search engine, image search, book search, and Google Scholar) is the almost exclusive search tool they use, also within sites (including Wikipedia): 'With Google it is possible to search within a particular site… Sometimes I use Google in order to search within Wikipedia because the search engine of Wikipedia is not perfect' (Interviewee No. 14). Despite their criticism, Wikipedians do use Wikipedia’s internal search engine: 'I do searches with the Wikipedia search engine for the appearance of particular words, checking how to spell names (people and places), and searching for missing entries (which appear in red)' (Interviewee No. 1). They also use the internal search engines of online databases.
Starter reference refers to a search method in which one information source leads to another. Wikipedians in the qualitative study described two starter reference methods: following references in books or articles and hypertext links on websites and on Wikipedia:
When you reach a certain site, you find information and links that lead you to another site… this can lead you to additional information not only on the Internet but also to information in books and articles, but your starting point is a good Internet site (Interviewee No. 20).
Wikipedians sometimes encounter new, interesting information by chance. Others browse public, academic and personal libraries: 'I simply go to the area in the university library where the shelves relate to the subject and I search there… take several books… and flip through them' (Interviewee No. 14).
Figure 2 presents participants’ responses regarding their information seeking methods.
Figure 2 shows that almost all respondents (96.2%) reported using a general search engine to seek information. Other common methods are browsing public and personal libraries and using the internal search engines of Internet databases. The latter method probably includes those who use Wikipedia’s internal search engine. Starter reference methods are also important for Wikipedians, whereas incidental encounter is much less important.
Information sources used
According to the qualitative study, Israeli Wikipedians use textual (print and electronic) and non-textual (human information and audio-visual) information sources for writing and updating Wikipedia entries, with electronic sources mentioned most commonly. For example, ‘Official websites of the subject of the entry… [like] the municipal Website of the city is a good source of information’ (Interviewee No. 11). Wikipedians report using databases of historical newspapers, and contemporary news websites: ‘It’s possible to use information from newspapers, news sites and news agencies’ (User No. 21’s subpage, sandbox, draft). Participants also use print information sources, including nonfiction and reference books and newspapers (historical and contemporary).
Websites with user-generated content are controversial. Participants commonly use the many editions of Wikipedia as information sources: ‘I always look in English Wikipedia (or other foreign language Wikipedias using Google translate)’ (Interviewee No. 3). Nonetheless, some claimed that Wikipedia is not a suitable source for an encyclopaedia. Among those who use Wikipedia, some translate from Wikipedia entries in other languages, while others summarise and rewrite the information in their own words. Most Wikipedians oppose using user-generated content websites, especially blogs and forums: ‘I have a very strong negative opinion about content that is created by surfers including discussion groups and blogs’ (Interviewee No. 11), while others use them: ‘I am a member of arts, travel and science communities. I frequently find content relevant for my writing in Wikipedia’ (Interviewee No. 1). Sometimes using websites with user-generated content can be justified when there is proof that the publisher is a recognised expert.
The non-textual information sources used by Wikipedians include personal knowledge and common knowledge: ‘Not everything in Wikipedia has a written source… I can write an entire entry without writing a source… There are things that… everyone knows’ (Interviewee No. 10). Others use human information sources, interviewing the subject of an entry, consulting people knowledgeable in the field, and/or enlisting the help of information brokers (librarians, professors, and various experts) who can refer them to an appropriate information source.
Wikipedians use audio-visual information sources, including lectures from traditional media, and photojournalism: ‘Documentary movies (National Geographic, the History Channel). I also have video lectures on geology which serve as a wonderful source’ (Interviewee No. 1). Some use images, audio and video files from sites with user-generated content, including YouTube, Flickr, and Wikimedia Commons: ‘I use Wiki Commons in order to find relevant… pictures or sound files’ (Interviewee No. 12). Some audio-visual information, mainly photos, is acquired while traveling including on guided trips designed for this purpose:
Once a month, we go with… [a] guide who is part of the Thousand Words Project to a particular area. She prepares materials and tells about the area. Everyone who is on the trip can expand entries on the basis of what she says. Mostly we take pictures and upload them to Wiki Commons (Interviewee No. 15).
The questionnaire asked participants to indicate which information sources they use when working on Wikipedia, as summarised in Table 1.
|Print or electronic books||67||83.8||13||16.2|
|Print or online newspapers||53||66.2||27||33.8|
|Print or electronic academic journals||52||65.0||28||35.0|
|Online historical newspapers||51||63.8||29||36.2|
|User-generated content websites: blogs, forums etc.||15||18.8||65||81.2|
|Audio-visual sources from Wikimedia Commons||28||35.0||52||65.0|
|Information obtained during personal travel||25||31.2||55||68.8|
|Personal and common knowledge||24||30.0||56||70.0|
|Audio-visual sources from the traditional media||12||15.0||68||85.0|
As seen in Table 1, Internet sites are the most frequently used information source (91.2%), followed by English Wikipedia (85.0%) and print or electronic books (83.8%). Print or electronic academic journals, print or online newspapers, and online historical newspapers are used by a considerable percentage of respondents (>60%). User-generated content are the least used (18.8%) textual information sources.
In response to the question regarding the use of foreign-language Wikipedias, 76.2% of the respondents (n=61) reported that they use them as a means for reaching additional sources; 60.0% (n=48) stated that they use foreign-language Wikipedias by translating information found there, and 56.2% (n=45) reported that they treat foreign language Wikipedias like any other information source and rewrite the content in their own words.
Models for selecting information
Once Wikipedians find information sources for writing and updating Wikipedia entries, they evaluate them, decide which sources to use, then verify the information. According to the qualitative study, Wikipedians invest time and effort in evaluating the information for its reliability and/or suitability for their purposes. Quality and reliability were the most frequently mentioned reasons for choosing an information source, but many interviewees addressed the issue of convenience, stressing the importance of accessibility. Sometimes Wikipedians cannot access information freely because of pay-walls, time, and restricted access issues. In the interviews, they addressed how they negotiate these barriers: ‘Obviously I prefer to enter a site that I don’t have to pay for... If the information is interesting enough to me, then I will spend money... There are people who object to this’ (Interviewee No. 14).
Wikipedia articles vary in their complexity, consequently, so does the investment required for writing and editing them. Some Wikipedians explained that they rely on different types of information sources for different types of articles:
The process of writing a short entry is simple... The process of writing a long entry is much more complex. I begin by collecting material, books and articles, this is a process that can take several months, including going to the library and photocopying articles and newspaper clippings (Interviewee No. 3).
Participants’ responses to the question on their criteria for choosing information sources are found in Table 2.
|Considerations for choosing information sources||To a great or|
very great extent
|Somewhat||Not at all|
or Very little
|Available and accessible to me (as an editor)||73||91.2||7||8.8||-||-|
|High quality and reliable||70||87.5||9||11.3||1||1.2|
|Might not use audio-visual information if it requires dealing with copyright issues||51||63.8||18||22.5||11||13.7|
|Language (personal preference)||46||57.5||15||18.7||19||23.8|
|Available and accessible to readers||39||48.8||22||27.5||19||23.7|
|Rely on different types of information sources for different types of articles||31||38.8||16||20.0||33||41.2|
|Language (because of readers)||22||27.5||21||26.3||37||46.2|
As seen in Table 2, the most common (91.2%) reason for choosing information sources for writing and updating articles is availability and accessibility. Quality and reliability of the source were a close second at 87.5%. The type of the article (for example, new articles, exiting articles, translated articles, and articles the writer wants to be chosen as a featured article) has less influence on Wikipedians’ decisions concerning sources, but remains a consideration.
Wikipedians in the qualitative study discussed their efforts to verify information by cross-checking it, with textual and non-textual information sources, as well as the English Wikipedia:
I wrote about [the author] Waris Dirie. I translated it from the English Wikipedia but there are all sorts of links there... I entered every site and checked if it supports what they said... We also have a rule on Hebrew Wikipedia… You can’t provide sources, references, footnotes to something you didn’t read yourself (Interviewee No. 16).
Several Wikipedians mentioned that they sometimes do not verify information, if they think their source is reliable, unless something seems problematic: ‘My starting point is that the sources I read are reliable... Only if the problems jump out at me, and I can’t ignore them do I really try to verify them’ (Interviewee No. 15).
However, most Wikipedians answering the questionnaire agreed with the statement that they verify information by cross-checking it with information from other sources, to a great or very great extent (n=58, 72.5%).
Collaborative information behaviour
Wikipedians are mostly independent in their information seeking behaviour. Their searches do not require prior awareness beyond the general knowledge of the previous work on the article: ‘Usually…I do the search myself, find things and then at the end I see that somebody has already put it in the external links. I could’ve saved myself the work…’ (Interviewee No. 17). In the qualitative study no one reported any synchronous collaboration between Wikipedians, but there was some asynchronous collaborative information behaviour, such as Wikipedians seeking information in parallel while aware of each other’s work: ‘I’m not sure that I have anything to write about Route 705… I’ll look…but you look, too’ (User No. 7’s talk page).
Wikipedians may request assistance from other Wikipedians before starting to write an article for Wikipedia, or after an initial search: ‘Yes, I am helped by Wikipedians... when I have less expertise in a necessary, complementary area of knowledge’ (Interviewee No. 2). They also request assistance after discovering that sources are not immediately accessible, but someone else might have better access. They also request assistance to overcome language barriers:
I need help with the entry on Jeanne Merkus... There is an excellent site about her in Dutch, that I used with Google translate but I am afraid that I didn’t understand what was written there properly (User No. 7’s talk page).
Wikipedians share information with others who have a known interest: ‘I knew that she was looking for material about [Bathja Bayer, musicologist]... I found a short biography of her... [and] gave it to her’ (Interviewee No. 18).
The questionnaire asked participants to indicate how they collaborate with other Wikipedians while searching for information. Although 92.5% (n=74) of participants reported that they mostly seek information independently, 42.5% (n=34) reported sometimes seeking assistance from other Wikipedians who found the information previously. Very few (n=12, 15.0%) reported seeking for information in parallel with other Wikipedians, and even fewer (n=3, 3.8%) seek information synchronously with other Wikipedians.
Figure 3 presents the triggers that lead to collaboration with other Wikipedians.
As Figure 3 shows, a lack of domain expertise or immediately accessible or available information are the most common triggers for collaboration, mentioned with similar frequency (47.5% and 46.2%, respectively), followed by coping with a complex problem (35.0%).
Motivations for writing and editing Wikipedia entries
Wikipedians in this study identified both personal and collaborative motivations for writing articles, separately or cooperatively, consistent with Huvila’s (2010) findings. Participants’ personal curiosity and interest in specific topics motivated most contributions (see Figure 1), similar to earlier findings (Goldspink et al., 2010; Huvila, 2010; Krieger et al., 2009; Stvilia et al., 2008; Sundin, 2011). A large majority of respondents reported that they decide to write or update a Wikipedia entry to improve and complete the encyclopaedia (see Figure 1). This aligns with previous findings (Research..., 2013; Spinellis and Panagiotis, 2008; Stvilia et al., 2008). Improving existing articles is more common than adding new ones, consistent with the literature (Huvila, 2010; Raman et al., 2005; Research..., 2013).
An information need arises when a Wikipedian is motivated to write an entry but realises that his knowledge is inadequate, or when intervening factors related to the Wikipedian’s personal life or the Wikipedia project might create information needs, thereby initiating a process of information seeking (Wilson 1997, 1999). In these situations, he might initiate purposeful information seeking for a specific need in the sense-making process for bridging the gap in his understanding (Dervin 1992).
Information seeking methods
Almost all participants report using Google and its allied services to search for information, consistent with Huvila (2010) and Sundin (2011). The majority of the respondents in the quantitative study reported using Wikipedia’s internal search engine (see Figure 2). Previous literature addressed the find feature of wikis in general (Mattison, 2003 and Oren et al., 2006) and Wikipedia in particular (Bryant et al., 2005), and corroborate our qualitative finding that Israeli Wikipedians use Wikipedia’s search engine to find both existing articles and lacunae (red links). However, participants in the qualitative study criticised the Wikipedia search engine. This criticism probably stems from the morphological complexity of Hebrew, which leads Israeli Wikipedians to supplement Wikipedia’s search engine with other information methods, including starter references (see Figure 2), and similar methods as found by Sundin (2011). The frequent use of websites and English Wikipedia as information sources found in the quantitative study of this study (see Table 1), makes it likely that these are also sources of starter references and hypertext links for locating information.
In the qualitative study, Israeli Wikipedians reported that they sometimes add information they obtained through incidental encounters during daily activities or their ongoing activities on Wikipedia to existing or new entries, consistent with earlier studies (Erdelez 1997; Huvila, 2010; Savolainen, 1998; Williamson, 1998). Sundin (2011) similarly asserts that Wikipedians’ information practices are a part of their daily lives. The low frequency of incidental encounter in our study (see Figure 2) may stem from the fact that our respondents mostly work on Wikipedia entries in fields where they have no formal education or expertise; more purposeful information seeking methods may compensate for their lack of expertise. The diverse methods listed here are supported by Huvila (2010).
Information sources used
Both quantitative and qualitative studies found that Israeli Wikipedians use a variety of textual and non-textual information sources for writing and updating Wikipedia entries. The quantitative study indicated that Internet sites, including those of major news organisations, are the most frequently used information sources, followed by print and electronic books (see Table 1), as reported previously (Ford et al., 2013; Huvila, 2010; Koppen et al., 2015; Luyt, 2012; Luyt and Tan, 2010).
Despite this apparent preference for online sources, Israeli Wikipedians do use print information sources; the current study’s findings are similar to those of Huvila (2010), Johnson (2007) and Luyt and Tan (2010).
A notable finding concerns websites with user-generated content. In the quantitative study (see Table 1), user-generated content on blogs, forums, etc. was the least frequently used sources of textual information, a finding supported by the literature (Ford et al., 2013; Sundin, 2011). Participants in the qualitative study noted that Wikipedia explicitly discourages user-generated content, but some interviewees claimed that there are occasions when such sources may be used. These statements by Wikipedians are similar to those of Ford et al. (2013) and Sundin’s (2011) claims.
The quantitative study found that many participants indeed use a specific website with user-generated content: English Wikipedia (see Table 1). Most of the participants reported that they used foreign language Wikipedias as a means for locating additional sources or translating information found there.
The use of Wikipedia as a means for reaching additional sources, through links or other information included in articles, echoes the findings on starter references, consistent with Huvila (2010) and Sundin (2011).
Hebrew Wikipedia does not rule out the use of Wikipedia as a source, but recommends exercising care, with wiki pages that explain when and how to use or translate a foreign language Wikipedia. The fact that the Hebrew Wikipedia demands caution when using or translating Wikipedia and imposes constraints on these activities might explain why Israeli Wikipedians in the quantitative study use foreign language Wikipedias mainly as a means for reaching additional sources.
Following the results of this study, it would be worthwhile to find Wikipedias that have a clear policy against the use of Wikipedia as a source, and to study the extent to which they comply with this policy.
According to our findings, Israeli Wikipedians invest time and effort in evaluating the information they find and gave various reasons for their choices. In the quantitative study (see Table 2), the most common reason for choosing information sources was its accessibility and availability to the editors, consistent with the least-effort model (Allen 1969, 1977; Simon 1955). Availability and convenience are especially relevant for Wikipedia, where editors and readers alike can click on links and immediately access the information (Huvila, 2010; Luyt and Tan, 2010).
However, this model is not the exclusive model characterising Israeli Wikipedians’ selection of information sources. Many participants in the quantitative study attributed substantial importance to the quality and reliability of the information they select (see Table 2), consistent with the cost-benefit model found in previous studies (see for example, Orr 1970). The importance that Wikipedians attribute to the quality of the resources was addressed by several studies (Ford et al., 2013 and Sundin, 2011). However, Luyt (2012) claims that the quality of sources used by Wikipedians is actually limited by their preference for easily available sources.
How can these models coexist? A possible explanation is that the participants switch between models depending on the requirements of a particular problem. Although we found that the nature of the article does not strongly influence the information sources chosen, it was still a consideration (see Table 2). Different types of articles (new articles, existing articles, translated articles, and articles the writer wants to be chosen as a featured article) vary in their complexity and, therefore, in the investment required to write and edit them, consistent with Savolainen’s (2008) assertion that despite the importance of content, availability and accessibility, source selection varies considerably depending on the task.
The findings discussed here complement previous findings of studies relating to Wikipedian's reasons for choosing certain sources (e.g., Ford et al., 2013; Huvila, 2010; Luyt and Tan, 2010; Sundin, 2011; Luyt, 2012), by applying the two principal models for selecting information referred to in the literature. As far as we know, the implementation of these models has not been undertaken in studies related to Wikipedia. This contributes to a deeper understanding of information behaviour in general and Wikipedians' in particular. Future studies can verify our characterisation of Israeli Wikipedians’ selection of information sources among a broad representative sample of Wikipedians from other Wikipedia language versions and even compare between various Wikipedias with respect to this issue. It may be interesting to study this issue in other collaborative content production projects that are not based on the wiki platform.
The qualitative study revealed that Wikipedians verify information by cross-checking, a component of Ellis et al.’s (1993) model of information behaviour. According to the qualitative data, Wikipedians try to verify information found in the English Wikipedia and elsewhere by comparing it to other sources. Huvila (2010) found that most Wikipedians in his study consider correctness important, or very important, and claimed that they behave very responsibly by checking their information in books and/or websites, as mentioned by Wikipedians in the quantitative study, with nearly three-quarters agreeing to a great or very great extent that it is important to cross-check information.
Collaborative information behaviour
According to the qualitative study, Israeli Wikipedians both search for information individually, and seek assistance from other Wikipedians who have relevant information, consistent with Bruce et al.’s (2003) definition of collaborative information retrieval, and studies demonstrating that information behaviour and information seeking are often cooperative (Fidel et al., 2000; Golovchinsky and Pickens, 2008; Golovchinsky et al., 2008). The individual information seeking of nearly all Israeli Wikipedians in the qualitative and quantitative studies is often undertaken in parallel with others, not necessarily with awareness beyond the general knowledge of prior work on the article. Tao and Tombros (2017) also found that searching is an individual activity in collaborative information seeking. A variation of individual information seeking occurs when Wikipedians seek information in parallel while aware of others’ searches, but this was reported by very few participants (option [b] of the collaborative information retrieval behaviour described by Bruce et al. (2003)).
In the qualitative study, we did not find instances of synchronous collaboration between Wikipedians, and this was confirmed by the quantitative results, in which only a handful of participants reported seeking information synchronously with other Wikipedians. Option (a) for collaborative information retrieval behaviour described by Bruce et al. (2003) is therefore underrepresented in our sample. Most collaborative information behaviour and seeking among Israeli Wikipedians is asynchronous, corroborating Reddy et al.’s (2010) assertion that supporting asynchronous collaboration is vital for collaborative information behaviour. McNeese and Reddy (2017) found that synchronous seeking is most common in collocated information setting; however, their study was carried out in a laboratory setting.
Israeli Wikipedians in the quantitative study could choose more than one option for some questions in the questionnaire and did report infrequently requesting assistance at different stages of their information seeking process, as per option (c) for collaborative information retrieval behaviour described by Bruce et al. (2003). Reddy et al. (2010) claimed that sharing information is an essential part of collaborative information behaviour. Wikipedians participating in the current study share information when needed. According to Tao and Tombros (2017) sharing information between collaborators helps them create a shared representation of the task they are engaged in. Israeli Wikipedians participating in this study acted as informal librarians or gate-keepers for each other (Hyldegård, 2006).
The quantitative study (see Figure 3) tried to clarify the triggers for collaborative information seeking. More than 45% of the participants reported that lack of expertise in the relevant field might lead them to collaborate with other Wikipedians in their search for information while more than one-third indicated that coping with a complex problem might trigger collaboration. Most Israeli Wikipedians participating in the study write or update Wikipedia entries in fields for which they lack formal education or expertise, which potentially triggers collaboration. A lack of immediately accessible and available information, because of pay-walls and restricted access, might also trigger collaboration (for more than 46% of the participants in the quantitative study). The need or desire to acquire additional important information sources might lead to collaboration between Wikipedians. Previous research documents that complex information needs, fragmented information resources, lack of domain expertise and lack of immediately accessibility can cause a shift from individual to collaborative information behaviour and motivate team members to work together to find the necessary information (Karunakaran et al., 2013; Reddy and Jansen, 2008a; Reddy et al., 2010; Reddy and Spence, 2008; and Shah, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014). The triggers for collaboration mentioned by Israeli Wikipedians are similar to those mentioned in previous studies. Shah (2010) claimed that successful collaborative information behaviour requires a work environment that provides opportunities for independent information seeking during at least some parts of the process. Apparently, Wikipedia provides these opportunities. Recently, McNeese and Reddy (2017) asserted that collaborative information seeking systems and processes should include features that enable collaboration while allowing for the development of individual cognition.
In accordance with studies in the field of information behaviour, most studies dealing with aspects of Wikipedians' information behaviour focused on the individual information seeker and explored individual needs and practices. The contribution of this study lies in examining the collaborative information behaviour of Wikipedians, or more accurately, studying the synchronous and asynchronous collaborative information behaviour. To the best of our knowledge, this aspect has not yet been explored. Thus, the findings discussed here contribute to a deeper understanding of Wikipedians information behaviour. It demonstrates that although in most times Wikipedians are lone information seekers, their individual efforts help create a collaborative encyclopaedia. This study has given a glimpse to how it is done. Future studies might take it a few steps further and expand our findings.
The study unveiled the individual and collaborative information behaviour of Israeli Wikipedians, finding a variety of motivations, mainly personal interest and curiosity, that set their information seeking behaviour in motion, and creating information needs that lead them to employ varied individual and collaborative information seeking methods to locate diverse information sources. The information found is verified and evaluated for its reliability and/or suitability for writing and editing entries. Overall, Wikipedians are able to overcome the difficulties that might occur when writing or updating Wikipedia entries on which they have no formal education or expertise. This implies that Wikipedians’ individual and collaborative information behaviour supports them in their attempt to fulfil various tasks intended to help construct an important knowledge repository, Wikipedia.
This study illustrates the opportunities available for investigating Wikipedia. Future qualitative and quantitative research might concentrate exclusively on any of the issues explored here, to yield a richer picture of the particular phenomenon. For example, a larger study on Israeli Wikipedians’ use of information sources could compare them with Huvila's 2010 classification. To facilitate future studies, it is necessary to develop effective means for reaching a broad, representative sample of Wikipedians. It is possible that the information practices investigated here are culturally dependent; therefore, a cross-cultural analysis would also be desirable.
About the authors
Yehudit Shkolnisky Lieberman is a librarian ln the libraries and information system of Bar-Ilan University (Israel). She completed her doctoral studies at Bar-Ilan University, in the Department of Information Science. Her research interests are in individual and collaborative information behaviour and personal and group information management. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judit Bar-Ilan was professor in the Department of Information Science of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She received her PhD in computer science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and started her research in information science in the mid-1990s at the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her areas of interest were: informetrics, information retrieval, Internet research, information behaviour and usability. She was academic head of MALMAD, the Israeli Inter-University Center for Digital Information Services. She was the winner of the 2017 De Solla Price Award. This paper is in memorial of Prof. Bar-Ilan who passed away in July.
In memoriam, Judit Bar-Ilan
This paper is in memoriam of Prof. Bar-Ilan who passed away in July. It is based on a doctorate thesis carried out under her supervision. I am fortunate to have been guided by her through the process of writing this dissertation and the article which followed. Her death is a great loss to me and to the information behaviour research community.
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