Content Growth and Attention Contagion in Information Networks: A Natural Experiment on Wikipedia
Abstract: Open collaboration platforms have fundamentally changed the way knowledge is produced, disseminated and consumed. In these systems, contributions arise organically with little to no central governance. While 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 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.