My experience with Wikipedia has been mixed, at best, particularly in the Operations Research area. Arguing with some non-OR person about what OR is has its advantages: it forces a rethink of one’s beliefs. But it can be frustrating, since it is not clear who you are discussing changes with or what their goals and interests are. And, if you are active in societies, blogs, and so on as I am, opportunities for “conflict of interest” abound. So a couple of years ago I decided to not edit operations research aspects of Wikipedia, leaving it to others. I am grateful that others work to make the entry better, though it is still far, far too historically based for my happiness.
My mixed experience with the (non-OR) denizens of Wikipedia might not have been unusual. Francisco Marco-Serrano of the blog FM Waves pointed me to an article in New Scientist about grumpy and close-minded Wikipedians:
Disagreeable and closed to new ideas – that’s the picture that emerges of contributors to community-curated encyclopaedia Wikipedia from a survey of their psychological attributes.
Led by Yair Amichai-Hamburger of the Sammy Ofer School of Communication in Herzliya, Israel, a team of psychologists surveyed 69 Israeli contributors to the popular online encyclopedia, comparing them with a sample of 70 students matched for age and intensity of internet use.
As Amichai-Hamburger expected, the Wikipedians were more comfortable online. “They feel the internet is a more meaningful place to them,” he says. But to his surprise, although Wikipedia is founded on the notion of openly sharing and collecting knowledge as a community, they scored low on agreeableness and openness.
“Wikipedia in a way demonstrates the spirit of the internet,” Amichai-Hamburger says. “People contribute without any financial reward.”
Amichai-Hamburger speculates that rather than contributing altruistically, Wikipedians take part because they struggle to express themselves in real-world social situations. “They are compensating,” he suggests. “It is their way to have a voice in this world.”
Of course, the same might be found out about blog writers!