A substantial gender gap among editors of Wikipedia and a corresponding gender-oriented disparity in the content has been revealed in a new study led by computer science researchers in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering.
"Anecdotal information suggested that the smaller number of female editors may have led to a deficiency in Wikipedia's coverage of topics of particular interest to females," said lead researcher and computer science doctoral student Shyong (Tony) Lam.
Using self-reported gender information from more than 110,000 editors over a period of time from 2005 to January 2011, the researchers explored three broad areas related to the gender gap.
First, they found that only 16 percent of new editors joining Wikipedia during 2009 identified themselves as female, and those females made only 9 percent of the edits by the editors who joined in 2009.
In the second focus area, the researchers found that Wikipedia articles about topics of particular interest to female editors are significantly shorter than "male" articles.
Furthermore, they found that Wikipedia's coverage of movies with female-skewed audiences is lower quality than its coverage of male-skewed movies.
Another way the gender gap affects Wikipedia is that females seem to be particularly engaged in the community-building activities on the site.
Third, the research indicates that the articles females tend to edit are twice as likely to be about controversial or contentious topics.
In addition, female editors are significantly more likely to have their early contributions undone by their fellow editors, and are more likely to be indefinitely blocked by fellow editors.
Taken together, these findings hint at a culture that may be resistant to female participation.
"We were stunned to see such a significant gender gap in Wikipedia," said John Riedl, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
"As Wikipedia continues to be a critical information resource, it is important that all voices be heard. We feel that understanding the challenges caused by Wikipedia's sizable gender gap can be a first step to finding ways to broaden participation," he noted.
The results will be presented at the 2011 WikiSym conference, the seventh annual International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration, in California this fall.