Inviting anonymous editors to join the Wikipedia community

There’s a silent majority that edits Wikipedia every day, but who we do not know. Called anonymous or “IP” editors, these are people who contribute to Wikipedia without logging in. They are identified in page histories only by their IP address, a string of numbers used in Internet routing and addressing systems.
This month, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Growth team is embarking on a new project to learn more about anonymous editors on Wikipedia, and to see if we might attract more of them to join the community of registered Wikipedians.

Our first experimental call to register, triggered when a user clicks edit

Why ask anonymous editors to register?

We think that having an account on Wikipedia does enormous good for people who wish to edit the encyclopedia. While not requiring an account reduces friction for the very casual contributor, an account on Wikipedia is quick to set up, requires no personal information, and comes with a host of benefits for editors — like notifications, a personal contribution history, and access to new beta features.
Anonymous editors already represent a significant chunk of new people signing up for Wikipedia. 10% of new registrations in English are editing anonymously before registration, and this proportion is much higher in many other major languages: 18% in German Wikipedia, 19% in Spanish Wikipedia, and 21% in Japanese Wikipedia. We also know that people who edit anonymously before registering are much more likely to be successful contributors after they register.

Our second experimental call to register, triggered after a user saves an edit

There are a variety of simple and fairly unobtrusive ways we can educate more Wikipedia users about why they might want to register an account. While we might also target some of these improvements to readers as well, anonymous editors are extremely likely to be interested in these calls to register.

What we’re testing

Starting this month, we’ll be launching interface experiments to ask more anonymous editors to register. Until now, the only time that unregistered users are told they may want to log in is mid-edit, forcing them to abandon their work. Our first test, launching in English as well as a handful of other languages, will compare asking people to sign up just before or just after they edit.
We’ll measure the success of these tests based on how well they retain productive contributors on Wikipedia. Future tests ideas include making it easy to sign up and save an edit at the same time, showing registered-only features and then prompting login, and more. You can learn more by viewing our research and design documentation.

Learning more about who anonymous editors are

On the English version of Wikipedia alone, anonymous users make about 900,000 edits every month. These edits represent roughly a third of all contributions to the project. Anonymous editors may have a huge influence on our project, but we know little about who they are.
We actually don’t even fully understand how many people contribute anonymously. There are about 350,000 unique IP addresses editing every month in English. However, an IP address is a poor representation of a single device or person accessing Wikipedia. Individual users (especially on phones or tablets) may change IP addresses regularly. Contrast this with the fact that a handful of IP addresses can represent a large institution like a government office, school, library, or (in at least one case) an entire country.
We have recently learned more about the volume and impact of anonymous editors, but we have a long way to go. Through experimentation to improve the user experience for these contributors, we’ll also collect data that gives us insight into the role anonymous editors play in the Wikipedia community.
Steven Walling,
Product Manager

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

21 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I have in the past but not recently made minor changes or correctuons in Wikipedia entries. Having developed macular degeneration I am no longer so ssiduous except for the entry on Malcolm de Chazal, which, when I came across it many years ago I edited completely, in essence taking it over since I am Chazal’s principal English translator. I have contributed financial support to Wikipedia also. This opportunity to write you reminds me to ask how I can include a biographical entry on myself as a writer, visual poet, editor, and teacher that some colleagues and I have prepared. All… Read more »

Irving I’m just another contributor of time and money like yourself. Thank you for your contributions. If you become a registered user then you will have a use page where you can have a brief autobiography. Mine is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Filceolaire. What you cannot do is include a biography, that you have prepared, in the encyclopedia. Writing about yourself or your friends is a breach of our Conflict of Interest Policy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest). Deciding who gets an article and who doesn’t is our Notability Policy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability). These are policies developed by other volunteer editors like us over many different articles. Best to… Read more »

Bon, apparemment, c’est tout en anglais, comme c’est beau la globalisation… Enfin. J’espère que vous n’allez pas me gonfler avec des messages m’incitant à m’inscrire. Je contribue sous IP, et pour l’instant je suis bien comme ça, et n’ai aucune envie qu’on me presse et m’oppresse d’aucune manière que ce soit. Vous évoquez les avantages de contribuer sous pseudo, mais vous omettez les avantages de contribuer sous IP. Chaque mode d’édition à ses gros avantages et ses gros inconvénients. La contribution sous IP fait partie de la philosophie de base des sites collaboratifs de type Wiki. Vous ne devriez pas… Read more »

excellent, congratulations!!

[…] à commentaires : utiliser les bases de données/open data ■ Encourager les éditeurs anonymes à s’enregistrer ■ Wikimag ; Signpost ; RAW : le compagnon de Lila Tretikov (la nouvelle directrice de la WMF) […]

Excellent work. Thanks!

actually, many people want to protect their privacy(IP address including), I prefer to use a account name~~

There is no need to have an account on Wikipedia… I mean, the edits should be judged and not the messenger, so it is fine to edit Wikipedia as an IP.
By the way, there is a nice essay about that:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:IPs_are_human_too

Regarding the statement “anonymous users make about 900,000 edits every month”, I’d be interested to see a measure of how many of those 900,000 edits are considered beneficial to the project. When the edits that are vandalism, mistakes, test edits and such are removed, how many are we left with?

Hey Tarc,
This is hard to quantify, but one simple way is to measure revert rates. We have good historical data on this via https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/PlotsPngEditHistoryTable.htm. Anonymous revert rates are lot higher than for registered users, but still only 1.5-2.5% are reverted for the wikis this experiment is being run on. In short, the vast majority of IP edits are still good enough to stick.

Why not start to let use openid instead as log-in (I know mediawiki can still be used as an openide provider but not client)? It has been efficient on some commercial wiki.

“We also know that people who edit anonymously before registering are much more likely to be successful contributors after they register”
This translates to “The first edits of most contributors are crap”. If you register early, then your bad edits will show up in your log, but if you wait a bit, you will have learned the ropes by the time you register.

Steven Walling your article provides proof that the proper combination of technology, people and capital can meet any grand challenge.

Even the most skeptical readers will come away from your work Steven Walling, feeling less gloomy…there’s a significant idea embedded within…a range of possible goals we may achieve if we have the imagination and the will.

We apologize for the issue where part of the interface showed up in English on non-English Wikipedias.
This has since been fixed.

I know that it is common to refer to unregistered editors as “anonymous editors” but we should get away from this usage. Editing that discloses an IP address is not true anonymity, and we should always emphasize that creating an account and declining to disclose personal information is the most anonymous form of editing.
Cullen328

[…] Traducido y adaptado de la entrada original, publicada en el blog de la Fundación Wikimedia por Steven Walling, Encargado de Productos de la […]

And are you also keeping track of how many “anonymous” editors you’re deterring with this heavy-handed tactic?

Absolutely. Measuring whether we have a negative impact on editing levels (for IPs and registered users in the experiment) is a part of the reason we are running this as a controlled test.

It’s worth noting that editing with an account doesn’t make your IP public, but WikiMedia still stores that information. So yet again, your anonymity is increased with an account, but not completely insured.

I have made some edits today and I thought it would be a good idea to register as a user if I wanted to continue to contribute to wikipedia. I have some feedback regarding my experience: Firstly, the user registration form is very bad. I had to re-enter my password and captcha around 10 times. Yes, there is an error if the username is exactly the same as one in use, but not if it like one in use… That contributed to the 8 times I had to re-enter my password and a new captcha. The captcha was so hard… Read more »