AAAI Publications, Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media

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The Substantial Interdependence of Wikipedia and Google: A Case Study on the Relationship Between Peer Production Communities and Information Technologies
Connor McMahon, Isaac Johnson, Brent Hecht

Last modified: 2017-05-03


While Wikipedia is a subject of great interest in the computing literature, very little work has considered Wikipedia’s important relationships with other information technologies like search engines. In this paper, we report the results of two deception studies whose goal was to better understand the critical relationship between Wikipedia and Google. These studies silently removed Wikipedia content from Google search results and examined the effect of doing so on participants’ interactions with both websites. Our findings demonstrate and characterize an extensive interdependence between Wikipedia and Google. Google becomes a worse search engine for many queries when it cannot surface Wikipedia content (for example, click-through rates on results pages drop significantly) and the importance of Wikipedia content is likely greater than many improvements to search algorithms. Our results also highlight Google’s critical role in providing readership to Wikipedia. However, we also found evidence that this mutually beneficial relationship is in jeopardy: changes Google has made to its search results that involve directly surfacing Wikipedia content are significantly reducing traffic to Wikipedia. Overall, our findings argue that researchers and practitioners should give deeper consideration to the interdependence between peer production communities and the information technologies that use and surface their content.

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