Sunday, May 19, 2013


Bosch, Torie. “How Kate Middleton’s Wedding Gown Demonstrates Wikipedia’s Woman Problem.” Slate. Online Magazine. 13 July 2012. Web. Accessed on 6 May 2013 from

Cohen, Noam. “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List.” The New York Times. Online Newspaper. 30 Jan. 2011. Web. Accessed on 5 May 2013.

Gardner, Sue. “Nine Reasons Why Women Don’t Edit Wikipedia (in Their Own Words).” Sue Gardner’s Blog, 19 Feb. 2011. Web. Accessed on 4 May 2013 at

“Gender Gap Stories.” Wikimedia Meta-Wiki. Meta-Wiki Page. 27 Apr. 2013. Web. Accessed on 6 May 2013 at

Haralanova, Christina. “Wikipedia: Why So Few Women Edit?” Ludost 24 May 2012. Web. Accessed on 8 May 2013 from

Lam, Shyong (Tony) K. et al. “WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance.” Mountain View, California: ACM, 2011. 10. PDF. Accessible at

Potter, Claire. “Prikipedia? Or, Looking for the Women on Wikipedia.” Tenured Radical 10 Mar. 2013. Web. Accessed on 6 May 2013 from

Walker, Tim. “What Has Wikipedia’s Army of Volunteer Editors Got Against Kate Middleton’s Wedding Gown?” The Independent. Online Magazine. 16 Aug. 2012. Web. Accessed on 7 May 2013 from

Wikipedia Editors Study: Results from the Editor Survey, April 2011. The Wikimedia Foundation, 2011. PDF. Accessible here:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Executive Summary

According to the second official Wikipedia Editor Survey conducted in December of 2011, women editors comprise only 9% of contributors to Wikipedia's “sum of all human knowledge”1. This significant lack of women and women's voices in the Wikipedia community has led to systemic bias towards male histories and culturally “masculine” knowledge (Bosch, 2012; Lam et al., 2011; Haralanova, 2012; Gardner, 2011; Potter, 2013; Walker, 2012; Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, 2013), and an editing environment that is often hostile and unwelcoming to women editors (Gardner, 2011; Lam et al., 2011; Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, 2013). The Wikipedia “gender gap”, as it has come to be known in Wikimedia circles, has increasingly become a large concern for the Wikimedia community, and a fair body of scholarly and non-scholarly work investigated and addressed the gender gap has materialized over the last few years. However, as much of this research has been on the “general” Wikipedia editing community, the vast majority of the outputs and dialogue that have been generated by these endeavours revolves predominately around the experiences of Western women on the English-language Wikipedia, and there has been little to no discourse on the significantly larger gender gaps in editing communities in the developing world. 

According to the same Editor Survey of 2011, India's editing community is only 3% female, but there has been little discussion on mainstream Wikipedian forums on why the participation of women in India is markedly lower than that of the Wikipedian population on average. Further, no directed research of any kind has attempted investigate this phenomenon.

This research thesis will attempt to investigate the gender gap in the Wikipedia community in India through an exploration of the contextual nature of the real and perceived barriers that both editors and non-editors face to contributing to Wikipedia. It is my hope that this research helps to generate a deeper understanding of those obstacles that prevent Indian women from becoming editors as well as demonstrate that context-specific research is needed to better understand those barriers and challenges that are faced by women from different regional, linguistic and socio-cultural backgrounds.

This research study has three main objectives: to generate a better understanding of the demographic composition of the current editing community in India; to investigate the barriers and challenges that Indian women face to their participation in the editing of Wikipedia through the exploration of the experiences of women who are currently editors and the perceptions of female non-editors; and to determine whether the barriers and challenges identified by the research subjects are unique to both the lived experiences and realities to there woman as well as to the Indian context. The research has a fourth, more long-term research objective, to produce research outputs that can be used to increase the effectivity of initiatives aimed at developing the Wikipedia editing community in India, but this objective will be given less focus during the data-gathering process.

This study hopes to work with the following three populations of research subjects in order to gather the necessary data required to meet the needs of the research objectives: the Indian Wikipedia editors community, the female members of the editing community and a group of Indian women who do not currently edit Wikipedia (the specific group will be decided at a later date). Data will be gathered from the Indian Wikipedia editing community through an online demographic study and one-on-one or group interviews with female editors, and an online qualitative and quantitive questionnaire will be circulated to the community of non-editors. This mixed methodology will hopefully lead to the generation of a large pool of data with significant potential for astute and insightful analysis.

While the research aims to generate a context-specific understanding of the barriers and challenges experienced by Indian women, considering the tremendous degree of culture, ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic diversity found within the Indian population and the time and resource limitations of the project itself, this study cannot realistically produce a complete account of the barriers that any one group of Indian woman face to their participation in India, nor can it hope to generate a highly nuanced and sophisticated exploration of the complexities and causal mechanisms that contextualize those barriers within the Indian society. Instead, the goal of this research is to perform an initial exploration of the themes that characterize the gender gap in the Indian Wikipedia editor community in hopes that it will lead to the discovery of avenues for more focused research in the future.

As very little regional, population or even context-specific research on the gender gap in Wikipedia has been carried out, and no such research has been done on the Indian editor population, any attempts to address the gender gap in India, or indeed the gender gap in any editing population whose cultural, socio-economic and societal contexts differ from those of the Western, caucasian, English-speaking world, are at risk of reproducing and even further entrenching the patterns of exclusion that already characterize the Wikipedia editing communities. The outputs of this research will not only be useful in designing more effective, context-appropriate development projects for the Indian Wikipedia editor community—particularly initiatives that aim to bridge the gender gap—but will also help the Wikipedia community at large to better understand the complex nature of the gender gap, which will hopefully stimulate similar investigations in India and elsewhere.

1 This is an oft-quoted phrase originally coined by Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia. While it is not Wikipedia's official catchphrase, it is often used in reference to the online encyclopedia.

Research Problem

Research Problem
A fair body of academic work has been carried out on subjects related to the gender gap and women editors on Wikipedia, including research on the content and style differences between female and male editors, but only a handful of studies have actually attempted to address the causal mechanisms of the gap. The majority of the research that has investigated the barriers and challenges that women face to their participation in Wikipedia are non-academic, and these works tend to suffer from the usual sampling complications of any electronic opt-in survey, namely that the self-selection aspect is liable to produce unrepresentative and possibly unreliable results and, in these cases, predominately represent the majority voice on Wikipedia: English-speaking, formally educated, from a developed nation in the North Hemisphere (UNU, 2011). No research investigating the barriers that women face to their participation in Wikipedia has been done on a specific region or sub-population within the larger Wikipedia contributor population, and therefore there is no research that would allow for a comparison between those barriers faced by Western women and those faced by women belonging to different societal contexts. This is not to say, however, that relevant, useful research has not been performed on this topic, but simply that much of it may not be applicable to women who do not belong to the Wikipedian status quo.

Academic Research
In a conference paper for the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work 2012, Benjamin Collier and Julia Bear performed a statistical analysis of an international sample of 176,192 readers, contributors and former contributors to Wikipedia in order to investigate the factors that hinder women from transitioning from readers to contributors. In their sample, they found that the amount of women who reported conflict or fear of conflict on Wikipedia, lack of expertise or discomfort with editing other people's work as being factors that discouraged them from editing Wikipedia was statistically significant. Their fourth hypothesis, however, that women have less free time to edit, was not supported by their findings. This is curious, as it is contrary to both the findings of similar research projects as well as research that examines the amount of free time that men have in comparison to women1. While the authors themselves present various limitations of the study associated with over-representation of contributors in the responses and the inability of their empirical methodology to allow for the inclusion of other potentially significant survey questions, the study itself was limited by its set hypotheses, which allowed the researchers to test the significance of those factors that they felt were most hindering to women's participation within their sample size without allowing for any exploration of other factors influencing women's participation in Wikipedia.
Stine and Steiner argue in their conference paper for the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association that women are more put-off by Wikipedia's editing culture and editor community than men, discouraged by a lack of positive feedback, intimidated by the Wikipedia interface, and/or lacked the free time or expertise to contribute (or both). They base these arguments on their findings of 53 e-mail interviews with Wikipedia editors and contributors, which is, they admit, a small and unrepresentative sample size. Indeed, their editor sample size consisted of eight women and twelve men, which underscores the limited legitimacy of these research findings as accurate portrayals of the experiences of women editors as a whole. Furthermore, they approached their potential editor respondents through three mailing lists for technology-related researchers, which has lead to a substantial skew towards respondents employed and/or heavily involved in educational or academic environments, meaning that the majority of respondents were most likely highly educated, technologically-literate and had consistent access to a computer and the Internet—the typical demographic make-up of the majority of Wikipedia editors (UNU, 2011). It is therefore difficult to determine whether these research findings would be consistent with those experiences of women belonging to the minority sub-populations of Wikipedia.
Using an empirical study of 113,848 Wikipedia Users, Lam et al. found that there is a distinct male-skewed gender imbalance on English Wikipedia. Statistically speaking, women editors edit less, are more liable to leave Wikipedia, more likely to have their first seven edits reverted/deleted, more likely to have their edits reversed for vandalization and are significantly more likely to be blocked indefinitely. As the authors themselves point out, the study is limited to those Wikipedians who explicitly identify as either male or female, which requires the assumption that these Users are honest in reporting their gender. Further, in order for these findings to be representative, one must assume that editors who choose to display their gender behave in similar ways to those that choose not to display their gender. Again, it is difficult to comment on the representativeness of these findings, particularly for women in the Indian context, so it will be interesting to see whether or not these findings are qualitatively reproduced in my research.

Non-academic Research

The purpose of this research is to explore the real and perceived barriers that both female editors and non-editors face to contributing to Wikipedia in order to determine whether these obstacles and challenges are contextually situated in the experiences and lived realities of women in India.

1 For example, see this study by Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst available here:, as well as this article on The Economist which presents the results of an OECD study on the topic of leisure time in 18 countries:

Objectives and Research Questions

1. Generate a better understanding of the demographic composition of the editing community in India
   Research questions: What are the gender, linguistic/ethic, age, frequency of editing, educational variation, employment status, marital and familial distributions in the editing community in India? Is this population characterized by predominately one group of people, or is there an equally diverse range of groups involved in editing? Whose contributions/voices are being included in the editing community? Whose contributions/voices are missing? Why?

2. Investigate the barriers and challenges that Indian women face to their participation in the editing of Wikipedia
   i) Explore how women that are currently editors experience obstacles and challenges to their participation in contributing to Wikipedia
      Research questions: What does this population perceive as barriers and challenges to their participation? What are the causes of these barriers and challenges? How do these barriers and challenges change over time? Which challenges and barriers do they perceive to be the most hindering to women's participation in editing? What do they feel would be the obstacles that an average Indian women would face to her participation in contributing to Wikipedia, and how do these barriers differ from the ones currently faced by women already participating in the editing of Wikipedia?
   ii) Explore how women that are currently non-editors perceive and experience barriers to their participation in editing Wikipedia
      Research questions: Do editors and non-editors experience or perceive different barriers and challenges? How has any prior experience with Wikipedia shaped these women's perception of the barriers and challenges that they face to their participation in Wikipedia? How do perceived but unexperienced barriers to their participation affect women's choice or ability to contribute to Wikipedia? What do they feel would be the obstacles that an average Indian women would face to her participation in contributing to Wikipedia?

3. Investigate the contextual nature of the barriers and challenges that Indian women face to their participation
   Research questions: Do women from different geographic, linguistic, ethnic and class groups experience or perceive different barriers and challenges to their participation, or do they experience or perceive similar barriers and challenges? If so, do they experience these same barriers and challenges differently? How are these barriers and challenges defined/created by their contexts? How do these barriers and challenges compare to those faced by women in other societies (for example, the Western World)?

4. Generate research outputs that can be used to render current and future projects aimed at developing the Indian Wikipedia Editor community more effective, particularly those initiatives designed to address the gender gap and attract and retain female editors


[Not complete yet]

Study Areas

 This research will take place throughout India, though I will be carrying out much of my research while being based out of Bangalore, India. I have chosen to be based here during the research because the current India Chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation is based here, and their physical presence allows me better access to their resources as well as their activities and events. My interactions and co-operation with the Chapter will help to provide legitimacy to my attempts to engage the editing community, as well as strengthen my ability to gain access to the various Indic-language editing communities.

However, due to the nature of Wikipedia and the Wikipedian community as well as the various other online communities I may choose to engage, I predict that the majority of the fieldwork for this research project will take place in online spaces via online means. Because Wikipedia itself is an online platform that does not possess one single specific physical location, its editing communities also exist predominately in online spaces and tend to be comprised of members from varying geographical locations. This would make it very difficult to interact with multiple editing communities in the physical world; therefore, I plan to use the mailing lists, Village Pumps1 and community pages of each Indic-language Wikipedia project as a means to communicate with and engage with each language-specific editing community. I have chosen these three resources as my “locations” of research as they are the main sites of interaction between the members of each community, and are therefore the principle online spaces where these communities exist.
Further, as the other online communities that I hope to use as research subjects are similarly characterized by their online existence, I will be using each communities' respective mailing list as the main “locations” of my research.

As for those data-gathering activities that must take place in the physical world (such as face-to-face interviews), due to the wide geographical distribution of the members of the editing communities in India, I cannot predict the exact locations where the research will take place at this point in time. However, the locations will most likely be dictated by the physical location of each editor that I would like to use as a research subject.

1 A “Village Pump” is a Wikipedia page that is used to discuss the technical issues, policies and operations of a specific Wikipedia project. Most Indic-language Wikipedia projects have their own Village Pump pages, though Wikipedia India, as it is community of Indian Wikipedians and not a specific Wikipedia project, does not have a Village Pump.

Study Sample

 The first group of individuals I plan to study will be the Wikipedia editing community in India. This editing community consists of the various members of the English language and the Indic language editing communities. This is a relatively large population, though there is significant overlap between the English language and Indic language community members as many editors edit in both English and Indic languages. As the first objective in my research is to generate a better understanding of the composition of the Indian editing community, the data that I gather from this population will contribute significantly to my analysis of whose voices are heard and whose voices are missing in the editing communities in India.

I have selected twenty communities to work with: the English language editing community and 19 Indic language1 communities. I selected these communities based on their accessibility (whether or not they could be contacted via a mailing list, Village pump and/or community page) as well as their inclusion in the official list of Indic language editing communities2 created by the Centre for Internet and Society (whose Access to Knowledge team is currently working as the India Chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation). I have chosen not to include the Sanskrit Wikipedia community in this population as Sanskrit is not a spoken language nor is it the language of any particular ethnic identity in India. The participants will not be selected; instead, they will be invited to participate in a survey via their mailing lists, Village Pumps and Community page, and the respondents will be included in the research. The requests for participation and the surveys will be translated in to the various Indic languages.

The second group of individuals I plan to study are current female Indian editors of Wikipedia from either the English editing community or the Indic community (or, as is most probable, both). These women will be my main research subjects, as their experiences and stories will help me answer a significant number of my research questions listed under my second research objective. These participants will be invited to be interviewed on the survey as well as through the mailing lists, Village Pumps and community pages.

The third population I plan to gather data from is a non-contributor population (individuals who do not currently edit Wikipedia); specifically, I've chosen to survey EITHER individuals that have edited Wikipedia in the past, but stopped doing so more than six months ago OR a community of potential past editors as well as those who have never edited. I am not certain which community I will choose to study at this point in time, as I am not certain if I will be able to access my potential community of individuals who were once editors but stopped. No matter which group I choose, however, their significance to my research will be the same. It is very important that I gather data from a non-contributor population, as their responses will help to highlight those barriers that are the most hindering to and/or difficult to overcome for women's participation in the editing of Wikipedia.

If I am able to gain access to this population, I plan to do research on the students who were involved in the India Education Program Pune Pilot Project3 that was carried out by the Wikimedia India Chapter in 2011. These students were required to edit Wikipedia as a part of a course at the university or college. I plan to gain access to them through the individuals who helped organize and run the Pune Pilot Project. They will be asked to participate in a questionnaire via their email addresses, and the respondents will be included in the research.
However, if I am not able to access this population, I plan to gather data from various Indian communities related to openness (open access, open data, open educational resources, etc.), as these individuals will most likely be quite knowledgeable about Wikipedia but may or may not be involved. Again, they will be asked to participate in a questionnaire through their community mailing lists, and the respondents will be included in the research.

1 Assamese, Bengali, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Newar (Nepal Bhasa), Odia, Pali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu
2 This list can be found on one of the Centre for Internet and Society's Access to Knowledge Meta-Wiki pages at this link:
3 This project was an attempt to engage students and professors in the Wikipedia editing process and increase the number of editors in India by using Wikipedia as a teaching tool and assigning Wikipedia editing as an assignment for various courses. A report on this project can be found here: