Friday, May 17, 2013

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:

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