Wikipedia, a collaborative online encyclopedia

Today, I would like to use the concept of design patterns to study the website, Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia? On Wikipedia, there is a general introduction about itself, “Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on an openly editable model…Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles, except in limited cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism. Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or, if they choose to, with their real identity. (1)”

Almost every social network consists of design patterns. What are the most important design patterns of Wikipedia? And how do these design patterns affect the social behaviors in Wikipedia?

In my opinion, one important design pattern is Collaborative Editing, where “people like to be able to work together on documents, encyclopedias, and software codebases (2)”. On the website of Wikipedia, people can see the link of Edit, which encourage users to participate in editing. The second one is Talk, which is closely related to Collaborative Editing. In Talk, users can discuss improvements to existing articles. Users will edit upon the existing article or talk to the author, when they find the information provided is not appropriate.

During the process of “collaborative editing” and “talk”, positive and negative interactions take place among users. According to a study on network analysis of collaboration structures in Wikipedia, “information about individual authors reveal the roles that users play during article writing; for in- stance, it shows which users are the providers of content and which users fulfil a control-function by watching the page and reverting edits that they do not approve (3).” The study identifies “pairs of users who erase each others’ edits and pair of users who prevent each others’ edits from being deleted (3).” Since collaborative editing is one of the most important social behaviors on Wikipedia, increasing contribution has always been a major issue.

According to a survey in 2010 done by the Wikimedia Foundation, the main reasons for not contributing to Wikipedia are “Not having enough information to contribute or being happy to just read Wikipedia (4)”. In this survey, Wikimedia Foundation also made a study on factors that would make contribution more likely. The fact answered by most respondents(39.36%) was that “I knew there were specific topic areas that needed my help (4).” The fact answered by second-most respondents(34.89%) was that “It was clear to me that other people would benefit from my efforts (4).” The survey was made in 2010, and it can be seen that Wikipedia has been working on these since then. For example, an information box of encouraging editing is shown, if the article need to be improved.

Edit beta

Image 1. The Edit beta page


Image 2. The Talk page

The third one is Search. Users can search for the information they want to know.


Image 3. The search page

The other important design pattern is Terms of Service, which “provides a legal framework for the use and dissemination of “information services” and intellectual property assets provided on a website”(2). For Wikipedia, the Terms of Service is related to copyright. Since the website is an open source platform, it is necessary for users to know how they can use or edit the information on Wikipedia. Otherwise, they will face the problem of infringing copyright. Wikipedia claims that “For all practical purposes on Wikipedia, the public domain comprises copyright-free works: anyone can use them in any way and for any purpose. Proper attribution to the author or source of a work, even if it is in the public domain, is still required to avoid plagiarism.”(2) Moreover, the content license of Wikipedia is Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0, which means it “lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use (2)”.

When users finish editing, they need to agree to the Terms of Use, in order to keep Wikipedia as a public domain. On the other hand, the Terms of Use ensures that the behavior of citing is legal. It can be said that the design pattern, Terms of Use,  helps Wikipedia to become a public knowledge community.

Terms of Use

Image 4. Terms of Use

I just mentioned some important design patterns of Wikipedia. From these patterns, I’d like to conclude that there is a collaboration structure in Wikipedia. In one part, users can generate content or amend articles. In other part, users can discuss improvements. In both parts, collaborated works are needed. Generally speaking, the design patterns in Wikipedia make the many to many relationships possible in the website.

Now you may wonder if Wikipedia earns money? The website of Wikipedia is owned by Wikimedia Foundation, which “is an organization that raises money, distributes grants, develops software, controls the servers, and does outreach to support Wikimedia projects, including the English Wikipedia(5)”. It can be seen from the website that there is no commercial advertisement in Wikipedia. Its main financial resource is from donation. Everyone can donate to Wikipedia. On the left side of the website, there is a link, “Donate to Wikipedia”. Wikipedia itself introduces that “as of 2012, there are approximately 140 employees and a revenue of about $38 million (mostly from donations) (5)”. In my opinion, Wikimedia Foundation wants to establish a non-commercial knowledge community online, and they are successful.


Image 5. Donation


1, Wikipedia 2013. “Wikepedia ABout” Last modified on 8 September 2013.

2, Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone. 2009. Designing Social Interfaces. Canada: O’Reilly.

3, Ulrik Brandes, Patrick Kenis, Jürgen Lerner and Denise van Raaij. 2009. Network Analysis of Collaboration Structure in Wikipedia. Social Networks and Web 2.0.

4, Ruediger Glott, Philipp Schmidt and Rishab Ghosh. 2010. Wikipedia Survey — Overview of Results. United Nations University MERIT.

5,  Wikipedia 2013. “Wikemedia Foundation” Last modified on 7 September 2013.


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