Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

An Analysis of Wikipedia

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

An Analysis of Wikipedia

Article excerpt


Wikipedia is defined by its founders as the "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." This property, we argue, makes Wikipedia a public good and hence subject to under-provision. A puzzling feature of Wikipedia however is its enormous size, at roughly seven times that of its commercial counterparts. What is driving this growth? And how can we assess the reliability of this giant encyclopedia arising solely from free-editing? We model contribution to Wikipedia and its reliability. We demonstrate that Wikipedia is indeed subject to free-riding, and offer a novel explanation for the mitigation of under-provision under such circumstances. We also find that the public-good feature of Wikipedia and free-riding introduce a lower-bound in the quality of Wikipedia. This finding is consistent with a previous empirical study that established Wikipedia's surprisingly high level of quality. We identify Wikipedia as part of a general Internet phenomenon that we call the Collaborative Net, and that includes features such as citizen journalism and online reviews.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Wiki, the result of an open-source effort, is a relatively new technology that allows Net surfers to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. It is remarkably simple technology, and with its text syntax is equally simple to use. In the words of the Wiki community:

"Like many simple concepts, open editing. has some profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users."

Perhaps the most profound, and without question the most well-known Wiki project is Wikipedia, the "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." It is available in several languages including Shqip and Walon; the English version started in 2001 and by December 2008 had more than 2.5 million articles. Googling exotic terms will almost certainly yield links to Wikipedia sites, which may be a sign of its quality, and is certainly a sign of its popularity. Other multilingual free-content projects include Wiktionary, Wikibooks, and Wikinews.


That Wikipedia is offered for free will not be surprising to information economists. Indeed, information goods are characterized by high up-front costs and virtually zero marginal costs of production. Since competition will drive prices to marginal costs, much of information on the Internet will be offered for "free," (or equivalently, sold with zero price tags). Even Britannica, the well-respected commercial encyclopedia, had to reduce its price for its full volume to a fraction of what it had charged consumers for years.

But what is surprising about Wikipedia, and other free Wiki efforts is that the high up-front costs are not as significant. Wikipedia is a collaborative effort that anyone can contribute to. Wiki as a technology reduces publishing costs to virtually zero. A question about the reliability of Wikipedia articles then immediately follows. Can Net users gather information from Wikipedia with a reasonable degree of comfort about its reliability?

Wikipedia has received much criticism in the past about the accuracy of its contents (, 2005). Wikipedia often responded by making changes to its design. In December 2005 for example, Wikipedia considered requiring users to register before creating or editing articles. Whereas previously, Wikipedia users did not require any formal registration process to make even the most drastic changes to an article. This was in response to a complaint in an op-ed published in USA Today by a prominent journalist, John Seigenthaler, also a former administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy. An article in Wikipedia had claimed he had been suspected in the assassination of the former attorney general, and President John F. …

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