Anonymous Users Contribute Best Wikipedia Posts?

    October 19, 2007

If you come across an anonymous user on Wikipedia, he or she may be a vandal.  But according to new data, there’s also a good chance that the person is one of the site’s most valuable contributors.

A Dartmouth study labeled the more benevolent anonymous users “Good Samaritans.”  These people aren’t in it for any sort of virtual glory; their reputations won’t improve as a result of their edits or new articles.  They deserve a pat on the back, though, since the Dartmouth study’s abstract states, “[W]e find the highest quality from the vast numbers of anonymous ‘Good Samaritans’ who contribute only once.”

Granted, “quality” is a subjective term, and John Timmer outlines a number of other problems with the study’s setup.  Still, it’s an interesting idea to consider.

What, for example, does this mean in the face of indicators that Wikipedia activity is declining?  Maybe the quality of the site is remaining steady, or even improving, thanks to these reserved Samaritans.  Or maybe, in days past, the Samaritans would have become valuable full-fledged members, but are no longer interested in doing so.

If Wikipedia’s to survive – predictions of its death are quite popular – it might help to figure these issues out.