Content Growth and Attention Contagion in Information Networks: Addressing Information Poverty on Wikipedia

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Published: 6May2021

Authors: Kai Zhu, Dylan Walker and Lev Muchnik

Publication: Information Systems Research, Volume 32, Issue 2, June 2020, Pages 491-509.

Open collaboration platforms have fundamentally changed the way that knowledge is produced, disseminated, and consumed. In these systems, contributions arise organically with little to no central governance. Although such decentralization provides many benefits, a lack of broad oversight and coordination can leave questions of information poverty and skewness to the mercy of the system’s natural dynamics. Unfortunately, we still lack a basic understanding of the dynamics at play in these systems and specifically, how contribution and attention interact and propagate through information networks. We leverage a large-scale natural experiment to study how exogenous content contributions to Wikipedia articles affect the attention that they attract and how that attention spills over to other articles in the network. Results reveal that exogenously added content leads to significant, substantial, and long-term increases in both content consumption and subsequent contributions. Furthermore, we find significant attention spillover to downstream hyperlinked articles. Through both analytical estimation and empirically informed simulation, we evaluate policies to harness this attention contagion to address the problem of information poverty and skewness. We find that harnessing attention contagion can lead to as much as a twofold increase in the total attention flow to clusters of disadvantaged articles. Our findings have important policy implications for open collaboration platforms and information networks.

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