October 19, 2007, 02:43 PM ET
Wikipedia's 'Good Samaritans'
Scholars have often derided Wikipedia for its reliance on anonymous contributions: If anyone can traipse onto the site and start hacking away, the argument goes, vandals and smack-talkers will overtake posters willing to put their credentials (or, at the very least, their pseudonyms) on the line.
To be sure, Wikipedia does have its share of unnamed no-goodniks. But complaints about the scourge of anonymity might be overheated, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College. After poring over the Dutch and French versions of Wikipedia, the Dartmouth team concluded that anonymous “good Samaritans” are actually among the site’s most valuable editors.
Good Samaritans, the researchers say, are unregistered posters — typically with bodies work of less than 100 edits — who appear to contribute only to articles about their particular areas of expertise. As it turns out, edits made by those posters are more likely to stay on the site than contributions made by Wikipedia’s registered users.
If the quality of their contributions is anything to go by, unregistered posters who made more than 100 edits are more likely to be petty vandals than altruists, the study concluded.
As Ars Technica notes, the study is not without flaws: Judging the quality of a Wikipedia edit by the length of time it sits online isn’t always a great idea, for example. But the Dartmouth team has at least offered an interestingly nuanced view of Wikipedia’s anonymous editorship. —Brock Read