The Wikimedia Foundation and the Collaborative Creativity Group at the joint United Nations-Maastricht University (UNU-MERIT) center plan to conduct the first survey on Wikipedia users.
"For the first time, Wikimedia will have solid information about who our readers and contributors are, why they come to us, and what they do here," Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a news announcement. "This will help us figure out how to persuade new people to start contributing, and how to keep existing contributors engaged."
Wikipedia boasts 65,000 hits per second, which ranks it the ninth most visited Web site in the world, but researchers say little is understood about those who contribute.
Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, who leads the Collaborative Creativity Group at UNU-MERIT said that "surprisingly little data exists so far on why, how and how much Wikipedians contribute, or indeed even who they are."
"Wikipedia is the world's largest and most successful collaborative reference project: its success is worth examining," Aiyer Gosh said.
UNU-MERIT has used surveys and other methods to examine free and open source software, like Linux and Firefox. Like Wikipedia, those programs depend on contributions from volunteers worldwide.
The group will survey Wikipedia contributors and readers in different languages over the next several months. Early findings are scheduled for release at Wikimania, the Wikmedia Foundation's annual conference, which will be held in Egypt this July.
"Wikipedia is an invaluable resource for diffusion of and access to knowledge, especially in developing countries where commercially available resources are scarce," Professor Luc Soete, director of UNU-MERIT, an institute of the United Nations University, said in a prepared statement. "Understanding how Wikipedia functions is very much part of our mission at UNU-MERIT."