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Invasion biology and the success of social collaboration networks, with application to Wikipedia

 

We adapt methods from the stochastic theory of invasions – for which a key question is whether a propagule will grow to an established population or fail – to show how monitoring early participation in a social collaboration network allows prediction of success. Social collaboration networks have become ubiquitous and can now be found in widely diverse situations. However, there are currently no methods to predict whether a social collaboration network will succeed or not, where success is defined as growing to a specified number of active participants before falling to zero active participants. We illustrate a suitable methodology with Wikipedia. In general, wikis are web-based software that allows collaborative efforts in which all viewers of a page can edit its contents online, thus encouraging cooperative efforts on text and hypertext. The English language Wikipedia is one of the most spectacular successes, but not all wikis succeed and there have been some major failures. Using these new methods, we derive detailed predictions for the English language Wikipedia and in summary for more than 250 other language Wikipedias. We thus show how ideas from population biology can inform aspects of technology in new and insightful ways.

 
citation

Mangel, M.; Satterthwaite, W.; Pirolli, P.; Suh, B.; Zhang, Y. Invasion biology and the success of social collaboration networks, with application to Wikipedia. Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution. Published online October 2013.