May 18, 2022

Research Article: “The Roles Bots Play in Wikipedia”

The following full text article appears in the November 2019 issue of the Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction.


The Roles Bots Play in Wikipedia


Lei (Nico) Zheng
Stevens Institute Of Technology

Christopher M. Albano
Stevens Institute Of Technology

Neev M. Vora
Stevens Institute Of Technology

Feng Mai
Stevens Institute Of Technology

Jeffrey V. Nickerson
Stevens Institute Of Technology


Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Volume 3 Issue CSCW, November 2019
Article No. 215
DOI: 10.1145/3359317


Bots are playing an increasingly important role in the creation of knowledge in Wikipedia. In many cases, editors and bots form tightly knit teams. Humans develop bots, argue for their approval, and maintain them, performing tasks such as monitoring activity, merging similar bots, splitting complex bots, and turning off malfunctioning bots. Yet this is not the entire picture. Bots are designed to perform certain functions and can acquire new functionality over time. They play particular roles in the editing process. Understanding these roles is an important step towards understanding the ecosystem, and designing better bots and interfaces between bots and humans. This is important for understanding Wikipedia along with other kinds of work in which autonomous machines affect tasks performed by humans.

In this study, we use unsupervised learning to build a nine category taxonomy of bots based on their functions in English Wikipedia. We then build a multi-class classifier to classify 1,601 bots based on labeled data. We discuss different bot activities, including their edit frequency, their working spaces, and their software evolution. We use a model to investigate how bots playing certain roles will have differential effects on human editors. In particular, we build on previous research on newcomers by studying the relationship between the roles bots play, the interactions they have with newcomers, and the ensuing survival rate of the newcomers.

Direct to Full Text Article
20 pages; PDF.

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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.