Often we model the relationship between a member of a wiki and the wiki itself as a monotonically increasing curve. People come to a wiki, and dabble with it a bit, and grow gradually more comfortable and more involved, until they're fully-fledged card-carrying members, which they remain until the end of time.

 ^ |
 | |
 i |
 n |
 v |
 o |                       ***********************************
 l |                  ******
 v |                **
 e |              **
 m |            **
 e |          **
 n |        **
 t | *******
    t i m e -->

But experience seems to show that wiki involvement isn't monotonic. People eventually get bored with a wiki, or get other interests, and their involvement drops off -- sometimes precipitously:

 ^ |
 | |
 i |
 n |
 v |
 o |                       **********
 l |                  ******         *****
 v |                **                    ***
 e |              **                         **
 m |            **                             **
 e |          **                                 **
 n |        **                                     **
 t | *******                                         *********
    t i m e -->

We can use romantic relationships as a metaphor for the relationship between member and community. The first curve, above, represents the "Cinderella" ideal of a relationship: some day your princely Wiki will come, and take you away, and you will live HappilyEverAfter?. The second curve is more like the, uhh... "Sex and the City" idea of a relationship. It happens, it may be fun and intense, it may teach you something, you may teach them something, and then you move on your way.

The amount of time that members remain involved in their Wiki relationship varies from person to person, and has to do with internal factors (how well they mesh with the rest of the group, their interest in the community's CommonCause, the health and activity of the wiki itself) as well as external ones (other wikis that have the same goal popping up, other things going on in the person's life, etc. etc.).

My (EvanProdromou's) experience seems to indicate that the average length of time that people stay actively involved in a wiki relationship is actually quite short -- on the order of one to four weeks. If there hasn't been a serious "breakup" between the person and the wiki community, the person may come back for occasional, uh, WikiBootyCall?s :-) -- brief, occasion periods of activity.

If I was going to put rough numbers on it, I'd say that about 30% of participants have "one night stands" -- one or two wiki "sessions", without any further involvement. Maybe another 60% have the one-to-four-week "dating" relationship, and about 10% actually stick around for the long haul.

Some things this kind of model brings up for thinking about wikis (and communities):

Encouraging Long-Term Relationships

The main idea is forming emotional bonds.

Little eye-candy items such as the portrairs we use whe DenotingAuthor allow casual visitors to form stronger emotional bonds with regular contributors. Adding more expressive power to the text via smileys adds a virtual ParaLanguage, which also allows people to bond stronger because they can be touched on an emotional level.

Little signals of politeness and respect such as greetings for newcomers and thank-yous for good articles also help foster a relationship. We're basically saying that we take all contributors seriously. This "sense of being heard" is also a strong motivation" (just as for blogs).

Are Strong Emotional Bonds Desirable?

A warm and friendly community will attract people looking for friends and an audience. Not all of them may be able to give back to the community on the same level as they are taking, so a sudden big influx of newcomers can turn out to be quite an emotional strain on the community.


This is awesome. I'm just taking a peek- I've got other stuff to do right now. (Pick up daughter, more house cleaning, etc.,.) When I get back, I still have more stuff to do. (InterWiki work, IntComm organizing, blah blah blah.) But just quick notes:

I'll be back, but don't know if I have time to write much on CommunityWiki today. But tomorrow, probably, or maybe late tonight. :)

This is awesome.

Longer response:

How do we optimize wiki culture and technology for these short-term "fling" relationships?


Are longer-term relationships desirable?

Not necessarily. The goal of being on the wiki isn't to be on the wiki. The goal of being on the wiki is to reach some end.

That goal may be, "Have fun with friends and interesting people," (seems to be long lived,) rather than, "Build XYZ." (seems to be short lived.)

However, even the goal of "have fun with friends and interesting people-" there is, even to that, something of building, I feel.

The question I wonder is: Why are your friends interesting to you? Why your particular friends? I feel that it is shared values, goals, experiences, even if you don't articulate them or think of them as such. I think- We are like gigantic processing machines. I feel we are working towards things. We are broadcasting arguments with the way we talk, even about innocuous stuff, and we are broadcasting plans in the way we live, even innocuous things.

I feel that the departures and what not- that they are shufflings of the rubics cube.

I do not believe we should carry on relationships longer than we want to. Time and space are our problems.

How do different community technologies compare to wiki in these breakdowns?

However, if the technology does not allow use to make a pleasant room, when we want a pleasant room- if the technology does not allow us to sit down comfortably- then it is failing us.

The goal, it seems to me then, isn't to make wiki hold us down longer, but rather- to make comfortable spaces for us when we want to be there, and to make the spaces do what we need them to do.

What makes people "stick" to a community?

I think shared interests, and values, and stuff like that.


These are just my opinions. I don't mean to say, "This is the way it is." This is just how it seems to me.

-- LionKimbro

Emotional involvement, right. Let there be two weeks that I have to care for rl and I have no time for the wiki. What is the situation like after these weeks? The wiki has developed. It grew, but I don't know how. All who write in the wiki might now know, might even agree on something new, that I do not know about. I have to read what was written during my time off and I have to remember what I had read before. This takes time, and it takes a lot more time when the wiki is mainly not in your mothertongue (mine ea. is German). This makes me timid for a while. I have to regain this feeling that my responses relate, that they make part of a common development. It's an emotional thing, feeling accepted.

What would help?

The digest thing does - I don't remember what page it was on right now. A page where the development of the last weeks is summarized. This gives me a fast overview.

Reading is so slow. Some sentences have three, four links, two on Community, two on meatball pages, I might know one of the pages from before and remember it somehow, but it takes at least three browser pages to open and half an hour of reading (as it's in English) to come to the end of the sentence. This is frustrating for the reader and ya, signori it is impolite towards the reader. I wish I had a compact summary of a page popping up when hovering over a link to that page. Editable title is what I called it, Lions summary block is pretty similar and could easily be condensed into such a title. That would help remembering things I read before and understand new contents.

It helps - emotionally (that's the clue) - to see that you have not been forgotten in the wiki. Seeing ones name mentioned, an idea of yours developed during an off time helps. Coming back is best when a new person just drops in and is beeing welcome by everybody. The instant feeling of community arises when all welcome. There are pages of a different precision level on other wikis, page that have a more chatty character. They are on Forum on Gr├╝nderWiki. Maybe introducing a level like that here would help. I'll be off again for some days now, See ya'!

The digest has been on my mind. Didn't we start one? I don't know where it is.

I do believe we should keep weekly notes on what we are doing. Who should keep them? When? I don't know. I am happy to do it, but I forget to. I feel I need consistent prompting, of some sort. "LionKimbro, you still haven't written the report for last week." Reports should be short, but meaningful. Gah.

And the language barrier. Murderous. We will implement WikiFeatures:AutomaticTranslation. I am sure we will.

Yes- I agree- we do need those pop-ups. I just wrote it up- WikiFeatures:IdeasToPlace #128.

I agree: We need more IntComm:ActivityAwareness? in wiki. When we see you come in, we want to say, "Hey! Mattis! Good to see you. :)"

I don't know much about WikiRat? or Gr├╝nderWiki; I'll have to go check them out.

Mattis: Your contributions are built into our minds and pages. When you go, remember what you learned here. And when you come back, bring back what you learned from over there. :)

I look forward to seeing you again. :)

So, I really actually wanted to challenge the Cinderella relationship model as the only healthy relationship between member and community. I think that the persistence of contributions to a wiki means that short-term relationships and even "one-night stands" can give value on both sides.

I'm also wondering if anyone has enough knowledge of statistics to help me mine my Wikitravel data for more information on this topic.

I have a number of data points for edits by contributors, which might be thought of as pairs: [user, date of edit]. There could be a third variable, the number of lines changed per edit, which could be interesting, but I think that it could be ignored at least at first.

I think it's most realistic to model the abstract "involvement" as "edits per day". That is, take the [user, date of edit] points, group edits by day, and come out with triples [user, edit count, day]. This could be used to create 2-dimensional bar charts for each user, along the lines of the ones shown above.

What I'd like to do after that is a) figure out if those bar charts would map well onto the gaussian curve of the second model, above and b) get an idea of the average duration of intense involvement. I think you could take the original [user, date of edit] points and simply subtract the date of the oldest edit from the date of the newest edit, getting [user, distance between furthest edits]. But if we think about involvement as a gaussian with some outlying noise, we really want to have, say, double the sigma of the gaussian curve as the duration of intense involvement.

Anyways, some things I'm thinking about. --EvanProdromou

Hm, if you are looking for other data sources, consider Community Wiki [1] and Emacs Wiki [2]. Use wget to retrieve the data, split on empty lines, drop the first record, split into lines, then split on the first colon, then look at the last-modified and generator items. (Maybe you'd have to parse that field further to account for changing user names?)


Define external redirect: ActivityAwareness WikiBootyCall HappilyEverAfter WikiRat

EditNearLinks: ParaLanguage IdeasToPlace IntComm IncidentalCollaboration