Aaron Shaw – Status, Social Signaling and Collective Action:
A Field Study of Awards in Wikipedia

CITP Luncheon Series

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Date: Thursday, February 9, 2012
Time: 12:30 -1:30 pm
Location: 306 Sherrerd Hall
Food and discussion begins at 12:30 pm. Everyone invited.

Scholarly and popular explanations of collective action and peer production emphasize the importance of non-monetary awards and status incentives as motivational levers that drive individuals to contribute their time and ideas to public goods. The story goes that individuals who make high quality contributions to a common pool resource attract awards and status from their peers, which in turn elicit additional high quality contributions, resulting in a “virtuous cycle” that benefits everyone involved. However, many contributions to real public goods are made anonymously; and there is reason to suspect that not all individuals are equally susceptible to status-based awards or incentives. In this talk, I present preliminary results from a field study in-progress analyzing the impact of peer-to-peer awards, called “barnstars” in the English language Wikipedia. The results of this research, conducted together with Benjamin Mako Hill and Yochai Benkler, suggest that the virtuous cycle breaks down for some Wikipedians who do not experience awards as signals of social status and fails to explain overall editing patterns for most everyone. The implications of these findings speak to the complexity of the motivations driving collective action online; the importance of field-testing behavioral theories developed in laboratory studies; as well as the challenges of designing norms and incentives that can sustain high levels of participation in peer production communities.


Aaron Shaw is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He holds a BA and MA from Stanford University. His research focuses on political and economic dimensions of collective action online. His current projects address the effects of power inequalities in information sharing communities; the relationship between online participation and political engagement; the effects of online participation among venture-funded Internet startups; and the motivations of contributors to commercial crowdsourcing markets and non-commercial peer production projects.