Background: Wikipedia is one of the most accessed sources of health information online. The current English-language Wikipedia contains more than 28,000 articles pertaining to health.
Objective: The aim was to characterize individuals' motivations for contributing to health content on the English-language Wikipedia.
Methods: A set of health-related articles were randomly selected and recent contributors invited to complete an online questionnaire and follow-up interview (by Skype, by email, or face-to-face). Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis and a realist grounded theory approach.
Results: A total of 32 Wikipedians (31 men) completed the questionnaire and 17 were interviewed. Those completing the questionnaire had a mean age of 39 (range 12-59) years; 16 had a postgraduate qualification, 10 had or were currently studying for an undergraduate qualification, 3 had no more than secondary education, and 3 were still in secondary education. In all, 15 were currently working in a health-related field (primarily clinicians). The median period for which they have been an active editing Wikipedia was 3-5 years. Of this group, 12 were in the United States, 6 were in the United Kingdom, 4 were in Canada, and the remainder from another 8 countries. Two-thirds spoke more than 1 language and 90% (29/32) were also active contributors in domains other than health. Wikipedians in this study were identified as health professionals, professionals with specific health interests, students, and individuals with health problems. Based on the interviews, their motivations for editing health-related content were summarized in 5 strongly interrelated categories: education (learning about subjects by editing articles), help (wanting to improve and maintain Wikipedia), responsibility (responsibility, often a professional responsibility, to provide good quality health information to readers), fulfillment (editing Wikipedia as a fun, relaxing, engaging, and rewarding activity), and positive attitude to Wikipedia (belief in the value of Wikipedia). An additional factor, hostility (from other contributors), was identified that negatively affected Wikipedians' motivations.
Conclusions: Contributions to Wikipedia's health-related content in this study were made by both health specialists and laypeople of varying editorial skills. Their motivations for contributing stem from an inherent drive based on values, standards, and beliefs. It became apparent that the community who most actively monitor and edit health-related articles is very small. Although some contributors correspond to a model of "knowledge philanthropists," others were focused on maintaining articles (improving spelling and grammar, organization, and handling vandalism). There is a need for more people to be involved in Wikipedia's health-related content.
Keywords: Wikipedia; consumer health information; motivation; social media; wikis; writing.