Thanks for the thanks! Examining the efficacy of Wikipedia’s thanks feature

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Much like Asgard, Wikipedia is not a place but a people. Specifically, an extensive community of volunteers from around the world who donate their time each day to building, curating, and watching over the largest collection of knowledge ever assembled.

Unlike Asgard, the people who contribute to Wikipedia often only rarely meet outside of the internet, and so we here at the Wikimedia Foundation set out in 2013 to make it easier for users to “thank” each other for taking actions on the site.

Fast forward six years, and the feature is still live on all Wikimedia projects; two clicks are all that is required to thank a user for making any particular change. Assuming that you’ve created and logged into a Wikimedia account, you can see the “thanks” option on the “history” tab accessible from any Wikimedia page.

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Earlier this year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Research team, in collaboration with researchers from Gunn High School and the University of Toronto, set out to determine how effective the thanks feature has been.

We posed a variety of questions as part of this study:

  • How often is the thanks feature used in Wikimedia projects?
  • Are there projects in which the thanks feature is used more often?
  • Are there specific groups of editors who use the thanks feature more (or less) than others?
  • What is the impact of thanking an editor’s revision?

Here’s what we learned:

  • In the largest languages, thanks are typically sent upwards (from less experienced to more experienced editors). However,  the most experienced editors send/receive thanks less frequently relative to their total edit count as compared to all other editor groups.
  • Some projects break from trends of “thanks” usage seen in the other studied languages. Thanks on the Norwegian Wikipedia, for instance, are typically sent downwards, not upwards. Additionally, a greater percentage of editors on that Wikipedia have interacted with the thanks feature than the overall average of 5%.
  • A controlled test indicates that receiving a single thank can increase a person’s edit count by a factor of >1.5 over the next day. This increased editing effect fades within the next month, but it is still strong for the next week following a thank.

Finally, here’s some possible directions for future studies:

  • Expanding this study to include smaller languages and further examining how “thanks” usage differs across projects.
  • Examining whether the impact of receiving thanks is cumulative. It appears that receiving a thank has a strong short-term effect. Does receiving multiple thanks have a longer term effect?
  • Advocating increased usage of the Thanks feature! If it can increase engagement and foster positive interaction between editors, it should be taken full advantage of!

Swati Goel, Gunn High School
Ashton Anderson, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto
Leila Zia, Head of Research, Wikimedia Foundation

If you’d like to learn more, all of this study’s code, raw and intermediate data, and analysis is available. You can also read the paper published in WikiWorkshop 2019: In Companion Proceedings of The Web Conference 2019 (WWW ’19).

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