ISSUE48: FEBRUARY-APRIL 2008

The newsletter of United Nations University and its international 
network of research and training centres/programmes

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Survey to find out who writes,
who reads Wikipedia

UNU Maastrich Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) is collaborating with the Wikimedia Foundation to conduct the first-ever, comprehensive survey of Wikipedia, the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the Internet and the ninth most visited website in the world.

UNU-MERIT has pioneered the use of surveys and other tools to understand the behaviour of Free/Open Source Software such as Linux and Firefox, which also depend on voluntary contributors from individuals around the world. With this survey, which will be conducted worldwide in several languages, the Wikimedia Foundation hopes to build a similar understanding of Wikipedia.

"I am thrilled we are doing this, and UNU-MERIT, which has a track record of intelligent research into global volunteer communities, is our perfect partner," said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "For the first time, Wikimedia will have solid information about who our readers and contributors are, why they come to us, and what they do here. This will help us figure out how to persuade new people to start contributing, and how to keep existing contributors engaged."

"This is a very exciting participatory space to explore," said Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, head of the Collaborative Creativity Group at UNU-MERIT. "Surprisingly little data exists so far on why, how and how much Wikipedians contribute, or indeed even who they are. Wikipedia is the world's largest and most successful collaborative reference project: its success is worth examining."

"Wikipedia is an invaluable resource for diffusion of and access to knowledge, especially in developing countries where commercially available resources are scarce," said Prof Luc Soete, Director of UNU-MERIT. "Understanding how Wikipedia functions is very much part of our mission at UNU-MERIT."

The survey will be conducted over the next several months. Early results will be presented at Wikimania, the Wikimedia Foundation's annual conference, which will be held this year at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt.

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