A game-theoretic analysis of Wikipedia's peer production: The interplay between community's governance and contributors' interactions

Santhanakrishnan Anand, Ofer Arazy, Narayan Mandayam, Oded Nov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Peer production, such as the collaborative authoring of Wikipedia articles, involves both cooperation and competition between contributors. Cooperatively, Wikipedia's contributors attempt to create high-quality articles, and at the same time, they compete to align Wikipedia articles with their personal perspectives and “take ownership” of the article. This process is governed collectively by the community, which works to ensure the neutrality of the content. We study the interplay between individuals' cooperation and competition, considering the community's endeavor to ensure a neutral point of view (NPOV) on articles. We develop a two-level game-theoretic model: the first level models the interactions between individual contributors who seek both cooperative and competitive goals and the second level models governance of co-production as a Stackelberg (leader-follower) game between contributors and the communal neutrality-enforcing mechanisms. We present our model's predictions regarding the relationship between contributors' personal benefits of content ownership and their characteristics, namely their cooperative/competitive orientation and their activity profile (whether creators or curators of content). We validate the model's prediction through an empirical analysis, by studying the interactions of 219, 811 distinct contributors that co-produced 864 Wikipedia articles over a decade. The analysis and empirical results suggest that the factor that determines who ends up owning content is the ratio between one's cooperative/competitive orientation (estimated based on whether a core or peripheral community member) and the contributor's creator/curator activity profile (proxied through average edit size per sentence). Namely, under the governance mechanisms, the fractional content that is eventually owned by a contributor is higher for curators that have a competitive orientation. Although neutrality-seeking mechanisms are essential for ensuring that ownership is not concentrated within a small number of contributors, our findings suggest that the burden of excessive governance may deter contributors from participating, and thus indirectly curtail the peer production of high-quality articles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0281725
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2023 Anand et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Humans
  • Language
  • Ownership
  • Peer Group


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