Working for the Invisible Machines or Pumping Information into an Empty Void? An Exploration of Wikidata Contributors' Motivations

Charles Chuankai Zhang, Mo Houtti, Estelle Smith, Ruoyan Kong, Loren Terveen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Structured data peer production (SDPP) platforms like Wikidata play an important role in knowledge production. Compared to traditional peer production platforms like Wikipedia, Wikidata data is more structured and intended to be used by machines, not (directly) by people; end-user interactions with Wikidata often happen through intermediary "invisible machines."Given this distinction, we wanted to understand Wikidata contributor motivations and how they are affected by usage invisibility caused by the machine intermediaries. Through an inductive thematic analysis of 15 interviews, we find that: (i) Wikidata editors take on two archetypes - -Architects who define the ontological infrastructure of Wikidata, and Masons who build the database through data entry and editing; (ii) the structured nature of Wikidata reveals novel editor motivations, such as an innate drive for organizational work; (iii) most Wikidata editors have little understanding of how their contributions are used, which may demotivate some. We synthesize these insights to help guide the future design of SDPP platforms in supporting the engagement of different types of editors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number135
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW1
StatePublished - Apr 7 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the reviewers for their thoughtful criticisms, which helped us enormously in improving on earlier drafts of this work. We would also like to thank our participants, with whom we shared many fun and deeply enlightening conversations. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Award No. IIS-1816348.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 ACM.


  • interview study
  • peer production
  • social computing
  • structured data
  • wikidata


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