Production Misalignment: a Threat to Public Knowledge
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On Wikipedia, when a high-interest topic is poorly-covered—either it is incomplete or contains inaccurate information—public knowledge is threatened. Contributors on Wikipedia are volunteers: they’re not assigned to track consumer demand, and they choose their own tasks. When contributor interest doesn’t align with consumer interest, the result is termed “underproduction”—some widely consumed materials are low quality. Past research has found competing explanations for what motivates volunteers to work on particular articles, including attempts to solve their own problems and supporting project goals. I theorize that social rewards explain task selection for moderate to high levels of experience, although this trend attenuates at the highest level of experience. Using a detailed longitudinal dataset, I find support for this theory in three ways. First, that although they are a minority of contributors, persistent contributors drive what gets produced. Second, as contributors persist, they are less likely to contribute to underproduced materials, but this trend flattens over time as predicted.Third, this pattern is weaker among contributors who do not create accounts.
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