Niel Robertson is a technology entrepreneur. He is the CEO of Trada, a paid search marketplace, and currently serves on the board of VigLink, an affiliate technology company. Blog:

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15 responses to “Wikipedia’s Decline and the 7 Types of Human Motivation”

  1. Grouchy prof

    “One now has to log in to edit”

  2. John V

    “Wikipedia got its start many years ago (March, 2009 to be exact) …”

    False. From Wikipedia’s own history page, here:

    “The Wikipedia, was formally launched on 15 January 2001 …”

  3. Zoli Erdos

    Editor’s note: John V, thanks,it was an obvious error, corrected now.

  4. Niel Robertson

    I stand corrected – you do not have to log into Wikipedia to edit. Some pages require this but general editing does not. I appreciate being kept honest. I don’t think that changes my core argument though 🙂

    Zoli – thanks for the typo edit on the date Wikipedia was launched!


  5. Gregory Kohs

    Any brave assessment of Wikipedia should also follow the suspicious money trail that the Wikimedia Foundation is leaving in its wake:

  6. Neil Raden

    Excellent article, though I think you failed to capture what a true mess Wikipedia is. Its structure now fosters a home for control freaks who, from their parents’ basement, wield power over contributors and in true bureaucratic form, crush opinions they don’t agree with with regulations that have been developed to prevent mischief, only to create more. One administrator said me, “We don’t really care what the truth is, only what is verifiable from a ‘reliable source’ (determined by the administrator).”

    Here is an example. The medical editor of the Today Show may say that a procedure is dangerous and on another occasion that it hasn’t been studied. These two things cannot be true at the same time. But because mainstream media is considered a “reliable source,” the dangerous comment sticks in the article. When the group studying the procedure comes to Wikipedia and disputes the claim, they are dismissed under a fuzzy provision called “original research.” That means if you’re the expert, your commentary is not acceptable.

    I could go on for days about this, but after three years as an administrator, initially spending 90% of my time contributing content and 10% gently guiding new contributors, I found myself in endless arguments about procedures, arbitrating arguments between administrators and censuring administrators who were bullying others and rarely having time to contribute anything at all.

    So I agree with your concept of human motivation, though I’m not sure the seven you mentioned really cover it all.


  7. Niel Robertson


    Its great to get an insider’s perspective. I think Wikipedia is in a complicated position of having to arbitrate what is “truth”. I hope they untangle some of the processes to keep the system moving.

    This article focused on motivations for non-adminstrators. I’d love to see someone write a post on the challenges and rewards of a Wikipedia administrator. I wrote a post a long time ago about another dimension of the “truth factor” which is relevancy (something this group ran into when it tried to create an entry for Enterprise 2.0 years ago):

  8. John E. Bredehoft

    Neil Raden hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, many of the motivational factors on Wikipedia are negative motivating factors. While other services reward you, Wikipedia penalizes you with “no reliable sources” messages, “wrong style” messages, or the worst of all – deletion of your entire article when minimum criteria are not met. I wrote a Wikipedia article about a local sports radio co-host, and once that show was cancelled and the person left the radio industry, the article was pulled from Wikipedia by Those That Edit. After that happened, I frankly lost my interest in contributing.

  9. Fences&Windows

    Behind the scenes, Wikipedia actually has a lot of the features you are discussing. There is a “leaderboard”, in the form a list of the top 4000 Wikipedians by number of edits, but one needs nearly 10,000 edits to make it on:

    There are other statuses than admin: Rollbacker (who are given a tool to allow easy edit reverting) and Autoreviewer (articles they create are automatically marked as reviewed). Both are seen by many editors as something to achieve.

    As for baubles, there are Barnstars, informal awards that editors give to each other (, and Service Awards according to time on the site and number of edits (

    For goals and targets, editors get to boast about promoting an article to Good Article or Featured Article status, nominating a Featured Image, and getting a “Did you know?” on the homepage. The height of competition is the WikiCup, in which editors are awarded points for completing tasks (

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  11. Sumana Harihareswara

    As Chris Grams notes, the issue with Wikipedia contributions goes beyond questions of initial motivation. As many contributors, editors, and readers have griped, the current pool of Wikipedia editors unpredictably revert useful changes, ban legitimate sites and users, and generally demotivate contributors.

    “Why not have a leaderboard that tells the world (and me) how many contributions I have made versus others? Where is the quantifiable metric of what my contribution has done (even just page view counts on all the pages I have worked on)?”

    This seems likely to incentivize unproductive system-gaming on a massive scale.

  12. Niel Robertson

    Interesting follow up article showing Wikipedia’s transparent planning process:

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  15. Bruce

    I wonder if it also has something to do with the decline of the marginal utility of new articles. I wanted to play with wikipedia just for the purposes of understanding the model, and it took me a long time to hunt down any topic that seemed like it might be slightly useful that hadn’t been covered. If you rank all articles by how useful they would be to people, I’m sure the remaining unwritten articles are down in the bottom of the barrel. This discourages anyone motivated by contributing something of use to the community.