Distinguished Lecture - Considering the Wikipedia gender gap through topical preferences

Location: Torgersen 2150
Date: Friday, November 10, 2017
Time: 11:15 AM to 12:30 PM
This talk is open to the general public.

Dr. David McDonald
University of Washington


Wikipedia, the "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" with the goal of collecting and disseminating "the sum of all human knowledge", has grown to become one of the most visited websites on the planet. Across the many different languages of Wikipedia a vast online community of editors maintains, expands and administers many aspects of the Wikipedia enterprise. However, that community of editors struggles with diversity. Some studies have estimated that the percentage of US women editing Wikipedia at only 22%, with direct surveys showing percentages of editors even lower. This dramatic difference in participation is a gender gap which may be having a significant impact on the knowledge collected in the encyclopedia. However, assessing the direct impacts of the gender gap on content is not easy in a broad based encyclopedia.

This talk will cover early stage research designed to consider how the gender gap impacts the topical content in the English language Wikipedia. The work leverages a multi-year long study conducted through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) that explores the relationship between a participant’s self-declared gender and their interest in a wide range of Wikipedia topics. We leverage a principled method for hypothesizing alignment between self-declared gender and topical interests and test these topical hypotheses through MTurk. While the study finds there are a number of topics that align with declared gender, there are a vastly larger number which have no discernable alignment. The study raises a number of questions about how we can better understand biases in content and participation. Further, the results call to question the use of a topical oriented approach as a broad mechanism for diversifying participation in Wikipedia editing.


Dr. David W. McDonald is Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) in the College of Engineering at University of Washington. Dr. McDonald's research focuses on the design and implementation of systems that support large-scale collaboration. He has published research on ubiquitous sensing for behavior change, collaboration in distributed contributor systems, collaborative authoring, recommendation systems, online communities for health & wellness, and public use of large screen displays. His research interests span Social Computing, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Dr. McDonald earned his Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. At UC Irvine he was part of the Computing, Organizations, Policy and Society (CORPS) group. He worked at FX Palo Alto Laboratory in the Personal and Mobile technology group and at AT&T Labs in the Human Computer Interaction group. From 2008-2010 Dr. McDonald served as a Program Officer for the Human Centered Computing (HCC), Network Science and Engineering (NetSE), and Social Computational Systems (SoCS) programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF).