How Can We Assess the Impact and ROI of Contributions to Wikipedia?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 September 2010
On Friday Andy Powell tweeted about a sentence he had written. He had written:
I responded to Andy suggesting that “this might have been the biggest impact you’ve made!“
The contribution Andy had made was to the Wikipedia entry for the HTTP 303 status code. Andy’s contribution to this brief entry was to add a “note about Semantic Web usage of 303 response to indicate real-world object being identified”.
My comment to Andy was based on the usage statistics for this entry – in August 2010 there had been 3,515 views of the page and over the past year there have been a total of 35,489 views as illustrated.
Now although the contribution appears modest it does amount to about a quarter of the full article:
This response indicates that the correct response can be found under a different URI and should be retrieved using a GET method. The specified URI is not a substitute reference for the original resource.
This status code should be used with the location header.
The addition makes it clear that the HTTP status code has an important role to play in Semantic Web usage – something that wasn’t mentioned in the original version. So if there are a further 35,000+ views in the next 12 months they may benefit from this additional information. And although there are much more detailed articles about use of the HTTP 303 status code in this context, such as “How to Publish Linked Data on the Web” the addition to the Wikipedia article has the advantage of brevity and the little effort needed to add the sentence.
In a recent post on Having An Impact Through Wikipedia I suggested that it would be useful if JISC-funded project work used Wikipedia as a means of disseminating their knowledge and went on to provide examples of how well-read technical articles in Wikipedia can be. But how would we assess the impact of such work and identify the return on investment?
In the case of the HTTP 303 article it appears that Andy created the first version of his update at 09.52 on Friday 26 September with the final version being published at 10.13. This suggests that the update took about 20 minutes to produce – although it should be noted that Andy pointed out that he “contribute[s] to wikipedia so rarely, it always takes me ages when i do“.
So can we speculate that 20 minutes work may provide a significant part of an article which will be read by over 35,000 people, based on current trends? And how does this compare with other ways in which 20 minutes of work? Is a blog post likely to have a similar number of readers?
I can’t help but feel that contributions to Wikipedia (by which I mean ‘sticky’ contributions which are not removed) may have a more significant contribution in certain areas that many other dissemination channels. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any incentives for such contributions to be made apart from the ‘Big Society’ approach of doing good on a voluntary basis in order to provide benefits to others. This approach, I feel, won’t scale. So shouldn’t we encourage contributions to Wikipedia as a dissemination activity which should be formally recognised?
My question, therefore. is should JISC programme managers encourage projects to contribute to Wikipedia and encourage the projects to report on successes they have doing this? And if you want an example of the outreach which can be gained through use of Wikipedia have a look at the August 2010 usage statistics for the Scientology article (158,845 visits in the month) – an article which Martin Poulter (a well-established contributor to Wikipedia who is ICT Manager at the ILRT, University of Bristol) has contributed to.
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