What Motivates Wiki Writers?

I have been reading a variety of papers to try to gain more understanding of communities and the things that motivate people to participate in various projects. Today, I came across a paper (pdf) by Majchrzak et. al. that discusses a survey carried out among 168 companies regarding the use of corporate wikis.

A while back I read an article in the November issue of the Communications of the ACM by Oded Nov entitled “What Motivates Wikipedians”. (There is an earlier version (pdf) available.)

The top two motivational factors that Nov gives for wikipedians are ideology – that information should be free – and fun. Fun came out ahead of ideology as he discovered that although people talk about ideology this talk does not always become action. It is after all easier to talk about what you believe rather than to actually make a change because of it. Nov also noted that as we get older Fun becomes more important as a motivator.

I was hoping that the paper on corporate wiki users would give me some indication whether or not the same motivational factors are present in the corporate world. But it doesn’t, as its survey questions focused on one of the other motivational factors given for contributing to open source projects – that of reputation. Only a minority of the corporate wiki users reported that the wiki enhanced their reputation leading the writers to believe that corporate wikis have a different effect on users than open source software community participation. This is different than the survey on wikipedians as the top motivational factors of fun and ideology were added to the survey because they are considered open source motivators.

Majchrzak et. al. state that the main benefit of a corporate wiki is that it makes work easier. The main reasons employees gave for adding to or changing the wiki were “information was of immediate relevance to my work” and “by keeping knowledge updated, my work would be easier”.

Most systems designed to share knowledge would have the benefit of allowing people to store information that was relevant to their job yet lots of them fail. It appears that wikis are considered to be sustainable in the workplace and there has to be more to that than its ability to store information. Is the primary motivator really that they make work easier or is it a combination of they make work easier and are fun to use?

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