Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the default and free encyclopedia of the world. This is amazingly cool, but also scary considering some of the flaws present in Wikipedia. There are dramatic inequities amongst the Wikipedia contributor community, and in the choices that they make. Only 13% of contributors are women, and studies have shown that this is reflected in Wikipedia content. Another significant problem is that Wikipedia is heavily biased towards western ideas and content. This appears to be true not only for the English Wikipedia, but for many of the other Wikipedias worldwide. Finally, there's the more mundane matter that Wikipedia is simply incomplete and sometimes incorrect and/or outdated. At the time that I'm writing this synopsis (April 26, 2012), in the article on "Carleton College," the section within on "Campus buildings" is a classic example. It mostly describes historically interesting buildings, but has a tail section proudly describing construction of the recreation center as if it were the most recent construction done. No mention whatsoever is made of the Weitz Center for Creativity, regarding either its recency or its interesting transformation from a middle school. Likewise, I looked at the article on President Steven Poskanzer. It is extremely short, has considerably less information than his biography at the Carleton website has, and one of the biography references provided is incorrectly hyperlinked to Poskanzer's replacement at SUNY New Paltz.
Some efforts have been made to diversify the Wikipedia contributing community, largely through attempts to encourage Wikipedia contributors to stick around and contribute more (see some of the references below). These ideas have been good and worthwhile, but they are largely based on retaining contributors that have already showed up at Wikipedia, as opposed to bringing new ones in.
Another related challenge is that Wikipedia contributors often work in an isolated Wikipedia bubble. Some work completely on their own, communicating with no one about the work that they are doing. Others communicate with other Wikipedia contributors via Wikipedia talk pages, but they often know nothing else about each other and what they are doing or interested in. I believe that more diverse Wikipedia contributors, with new areas of knowledge and interest, could be attracted to Wikipedia by making the contribution experience more social.
The goal of this project is to build a social networking platform, implemented as a Facebook application, for Wikipedia contributors. The concept is to enable Wikipedia contributors to link their Wikipedia accounts with their Facebook accounts. By doing this, a number of really interesting possibilities emerge. For example:
As a team, you will decide which of these and/or other possibilities to implement and launch. This will require learning how to build Facebook applications, and will also require learning how to access Wikipedia historical data and contribution activity.
It would be extremely interesting to learn if this system makes a notable impact in Wikipedia contributions, either in quantity or in balance. A significant portion of this project would be in designing and implementing a study where the above product is deployed to a number of Wikipedia contributors (or perhaps non-contributors?) in a scientific fashion in order to study the effect of the tool on contributions.
If the software is well-implemented, properly studied, and shows interesting effects on Wikipedia contributions, this is likely cutting-edge research that may be publishable. The conference WikiSym typically has an April deadline for paper submissions, which fits very nicely with the end of our comps projects in March. Therefore, the hopeful timeline for this project would involve design and construction of the software in the fall, and running the user study and writing a paper for submission to WikiSym in the winter.
In the fall, you'll work with a librarian to do a thorough literature search to find out what others have done in this area. In the meantime, here are a few relevant resources.
Don't Bite the Newbies: How Reverts Affect the Quantity and Quality of Wikipedia Work , Halfaker, A.; Kittur, A.; Riedl, J. , The International Symposium on Wiki's and Open Collaboration, 10/2011, Mountain View, CA, (2011)
NICE: Social translucence through UI intervention , Halfaker, A.; Song, B.; Stuart, D.A.; Kittur, A.; Riedl, J., The International Symposium on Wiki's and Open Collaboration, 10/2011, Mountain View, CA, (2011)
SuggestBot: Using Intelligent Task Routing to Help People Find Work in Wikipedia, Cosley, D.; Frankowski, D.; Terveen, L.; Riedl, J. , International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, 28/01/2007, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, p.32 - 41, (2007)