Nav: Home

Rise of the bots: Stevens team completes first census of Wikipedia bots

November 21, 2019

Since launching in 2001, Wikipedia has evolved into a sprawling repository of human knowledge, with 40 million collaboratively-written articles and almost 500 million monthly users. Maintaining that project requires more than 137,000 volunteer editors - and, increasingly, an army of automated, AI-powered software tools, known as bots, that continually scour the website to eliminate junk, add and tag pages, fix broken links, and coax human contributors to do better.

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., have now completed the first analysis of all 1,601 of Wikipedia's bots, using computer algorithms to classify them by function and shed light on the ways that machine intelligences and human users work together to improve and expand the world's largest digital encyclopedia. The work, published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, could inform the development and use of bots in commercial applications ranging from online customer service to automated microchip design.

"AI is changing the way that we produce knowledge, and Wikipedia is the perfect place to study that," said Jeffrey Nickerson, a professor in the School of Business at Stevens and one of the study's authors. "In the future, we'll all be working alongside AI technologies, and this kind of research will help us shape and mold bots into more effective tools."

By leveraging Wikipedia's transparency and detailed record-keeping, Nickerson used automated classification algorithms to map every bot function as part of an interconnected network. By studying the places where functions clustered, the team identified bots' roles like "fixers", which repair broken content or erase vandalism; "connectors", which link pages and resources together; "protectors," which police bad behavior; and "advisors," which suggest new activities and provide helpful tips.

In total, bots play nine core roles on Wikipedia, accounting for about 10 percent of all activity on the site, and up to 88 percent of activity on some sub-sections such as the site's Wikidata platform. Most of that activity comes from more than 1,200 fixer-bots, which have collectively made more than 80 million edits to the site. Advisor-bots and protector-bots, by contrast, are less prolific, but play a vital role in shaping human editors' interactions with Wikipedia.

New members of online communities are more likely to stick around if they're welcomed by fellow members - but Nickerson and his team found that new Wikipedia users who interacted with advisor- and protector-bots were significantly more likely to become long-term contributors than those greeted by humans. That remained true even when the bots were contacting users to point out errors or delete their contributions, as long as the bots were cordial and clear about their reasons.

"People don't mind being criticized by bots, as long as they're polite about it," said Nickerson, whose team includes Feng Mai, graduate student Lei (Nico) Zheng and undergraduate students Christopher Albano and Neev Vora. "Wikipedia's transparency and feedback mechanisms help people to accept bots as legitimate members of the community."

Over time, some bots fell into obsolescence while others expanded and took on new roles. Studying the evolution of bots, and the ways that human-defined policies shape the bot ecosystem, remains a promising field for future research. "Are we heading for a world with a handful of multipurpose super-bots, or one with lots and lots of more specialized bots? We don't know yet," said Nickerson.

One thing is clear, though: Wikipedia's bots, and the governance and feedback systems that have sprung up around them, offer lessons for commercial bot-builders. "The things we're seeing on Wikipedia could be a harbinger of things to come in many different industries and professions," said Nickerson. "By studying Wikipedia, we can prepare for the future, and learn to build AI tools that improve both our productivity and the quality of our work."
-end-


Stevens Institute of Technology

Related Wikipedia Articles:

Wikipedia visits to disease outbreak pages show impact of news media on public attention
During the 2016 Zika outbreak, news exposure appears to have had a far bigger impact than local disease risk on the number of times people visited Zika-related Wikipedia pages in the U.S.
Automated system can rewrite outdated sentences in Wikipedia articles
A system created by MIT researchers could be used to automatically update factual inconsistencies in Wikipedia articles, reducing time and effort spent by human editors who now do the task manually.
Wikipedia, a source of information on natural disasters biased towards rich countries
This is the result of a study led by Valerio Lorini, a PhD student on the ICT programme, led by Carlos Castillo, coordinator of the Web Science and Social Computing group, with Javier Rando, a student at UPF doing the bachelor's degree in Mathematical Engineering in Data Science, focusing on flooding as a case study.
Rise of the bots: Stevens team completes first census of Wikipedia bots
Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., have completed the first analysis of all 1,601 of Wikipedia's bots, using computer algorithms to classify them by function and shed light on the ways that machine intelligences and human users work together to improve and expand the world's largest digital encyclopedia.
Secretome of pleural effusions associated with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and malignant meso
Cryopreserved cell-free PE fluid from 101 NSCLC patients, 8 mesothelioma and 13 with benign PE was assayed for a panel of 40 cytokines/chemokines using the Luminex system.
Anatomy of a cosmic seagull
Colourful and wispy, this intriguing collection of objects is known as the Seagull Nebula, named for its resemblance to a gull in flight.
The Wikipedia gender gap
In a recent University of Washington study, researchers interviewed women 'Wikipedians' to examine the lack of female and non-binary editors in Wikipedia.
Dermatology students improve Wikipedia entries on skin disease
A group of medical students recruited to improve Wikipedia articles on skin-related diseases, saw millions more views of those stories following their editing, highlighting the value of expert input on the popular web encyclopedia.
Could internet activity provide accurate in plant and animal conservation?
More than a quarter of the species in their dataset showed seasonal interest.
Analysis of billions of Wikipedia searches reveals biodiversity secrets
An international team of researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Birmingham and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have found that the way in which people use the internet is closely tied to patterns and rhythms in the natural world.
More Wikipedia News and Wikipedia Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.