May 24, 2022

Report: Wikipedia Is Basically A Corporate Bureaucracy, According To New Study

From Engadget:

Even in the brave new world of online communities, the Who had it right: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

This may seem surprising, since there is no policing authority on Wikipedia — no established top-down means of control. The community is self-governing, relying primarily on social pressure to enforce the established core norms, according to co-author Simon DeDeo, a complexity scientist at Indiana University. He likens the earliest Wikipedia users — most of whom hailed from the ultra-nerdy Usenet culture of the 1990s — to historical figures like Rousseau, Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson. “But what happens when a tiny Thomas Jefferson Libertarian fantasy has to grow up?” he told Gizmodo.

To find out, he and Indiana University undergraduate Bradi Heaberlin decided to examine the emergence of social hierarchy and online behavioural norms among the editors of Wikipedia. They examined 15 years of Wikipedia data, involving tens of thousands of individuals, from 2001 to 2015. Their conclusion: “[It] looks like a university system, or like General Electric, or AT&T,” said DeDeo.


A January paper published in Physical Review E by physicists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology would seem to support that finding. That study found that a fairly small number of Wikipedia editors exert a major influence on the site. And just as DeDeo and Heaberlin’s analysis predicts, that editing inequality is increasing over time. It’s now quite rare for a newcomer to break into the upper echelons of so-called “super-editors”.

This, in turn, may be hindering further growth of the community. As lead author Jinhyuk Yun told Physics Focus, “There are already reports that the growth of Wikipedia is slowing down, and our observation indicates that this will continue unless something is done about it.” He recommended active recruitment of new members to break the monopoly those few super-editors have on managing content. DeDeo agrees: “A social world has to open itself up in order to thrive.”

Read the Complete Engadget Article

Direct to Full Text Paper by Bradi Haberlin Mentioned in Article, “The Evolution of Wikipedia’s Norm Network” (via Future Internet 8.2; 2016)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.