Submissions/Hi, my name is unmasking anonymous editors on Wikipedia

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2014.

Submission no. 1042
Title of the submission
Hi, my name is unmasking anonymous editors on Wikipedia
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Author of the submission
Steven Walling & Aaron Halfaker
E-mail address,
User:Steven (WMF) & User:Halfak (WMF)
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Wikimedia Foundation

Anonymous (or IP) editing has always been a part of the Wikipedia experience, but it has always been a contentious issue in our community. Some have claimed that occasional contributors have written the bulk of the content in the encyclopedia.[1] On the other hand, many Wikipedians believe that anonymous editing is harmful to the encylopedia, and should even be disallowed entirely.[2] In the midst of these opposing views, the truth has long been mysterious. We don't typically track anonymous editing, survey anonymous editors, or talk to them on the wikis.

This presentation will be split into two sections:

  1. the results of background research exploring the nature of anonymous editor behavior
  2. new features and experiments by the Growth team at the Wikimedia Foundation aimed at increasing anonymous editor engagement

Background: Anonymous editing research

We'll present new research exploring fundamental questions around anonymous editor behavior.

  • Is editing from an IP really private? Can we improve privacy for IP editors?
  • How many anonymous editors are there really? Is assuming "one IP equals one human" reasonable?
  • Why do people edit anonymously? Is anon editing a stepping stone to registered editing or is it a matter of preference?
    • How often do anonymous editors register an account and become active Wikipedians?
  • How much do anonymous editors contribute to Wikipedia, and how good are those contributions?

New features: Anonymous editor acquisition

Our team embarked on this new research in to anonymous editing not just to answer questions, but to think of new ways to grow the Wikipedia. Compared to readers, the average anonymous editor is potentially a much better fit for joining the Wikipedia editor community. In the past, it's been suggested that nearly 60% of Wikipedians actually started as anonymous editors.[3] If this is the case, how can we ask more anonymous editors to register accounts? How do we communicate the benefits to them clearly and without discouraging edits by those not interested in signing up? We'll present on design work and experiments we have run to test our theories about how to attract anonymous editors.


  1. Swartz, A., Who Writes Wikipedia?, Posted Sept. 4th, 2006.
  2. E.g., Template:User_anti-anon on the English Wikipedia
  3. 59 percent of logged-in Wikipedians started as anonymous editors, Wikimedia blog
Technology, Interface & Infrastructure
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
60 minutes (for two sections) including Q&A
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  1. Gnom (talk) 19:17, 20 March 2014 (UTC)[reply]
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