Readers are not free-riders: Reading as a form of participation on Wikipedia
Citation: Judd Antin, Coye Cheshire (2010) Readers are not free-riders: Reading as a form of participation on Wikipedia. Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (RSS)
This CSCW 2010 short paper argues that readers are not free-riders for three reasons:
- many readers don't know that they can edit Wikipedia and fix mistakes
- reading is a contribution in itself
- reading can be a prelude to editing and actively participating.
Readers don't know they can edit
Reading is a contribution
Reading is a contribution in itself is particularly interesting; the authors marshall previous research to support this:
- Reading helps indicate the value of Wikipedia articles 
- Reading without modifying indicates perceived reliability 
- Readers are the audience , and "at least some rewards are sensitive to audience size" 
Reading can be a stage on the way to editing
Reading provides newcomers with a role and "access to processes, products, and knowledge associated with full participation" .
They surveyed 165 undergraduates about how frequently they read and edited articles and how frequently they read and edited Talk pages, while also asking 10 questions representing operational knowledge of Wikipedia. Those 10 questions (shown in the paper's Table 1) were drawn from "three core areas of Wikipedia knowledge: (1) functional capabilities and restrictions; (2) standards, policies, and power structures, and; (3) issues of authorship and audience". Their objective was, in part, to develop questions for future surveys, but the results are analyzed here to indicate how people learn about editing and policies. Operational knowledge about Wikipedia was relatively low, with an average of 2.7 out of 10 answers correct, and a maximum of 8 answers correct.
While all participants read Wikipedia (and 70% read Wikipedia at least several times a week), only 16% had ever edited Wikipedia, and "only 3% said they edited more often than once every few weeks. Only 25% of our participants reported ever having read a Talk page, and less than 5% reported ever having edited" a Talk page.
Reading Talk pages seems to signal "a transition towards more active forms of participation"; "Increased reading of Talk pages was more strongly associated with knowledge of operational details than any other type of participation."
Another interesting perspective brought forth in this paper is that readers are "deliberately cautious", based on theories of lurking and de-lurking  .
 Adler, B., Chatterjee, K., de Alfaro, L., Faella, M., Pye, I., and Raman, V. Assigning trust to Wikipedia content. Proc. WikiSym 2008. ACM, Porto, Portugal.
 Bryant, S.L., Forte, A., and Bruckman, A., “Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia,” in Proc. GROUP 2005. ACM: Sanibel Island, Florida, USA. pp. 1-10.
 Lave, J. and Wenger, E., Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. 1991, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
 Preece, J., Nonnecke, B., and Andrews, D., The top five reasons for lurking: Improving community experiences for everyone. Computers in Human Behavior, 2004. 20(2): 201-223.
 Priedhorsky,R.,Chen,J.,Lam,S.K.,Panciera,K., Terveen, L., and Riedl, J. Creating, destroying, and restoring value in Wikipedia. Proc. GROUP 2007. ACM: Sanibel Island, Florida, USA. Pp. 259-268.
 Rafaeli,S.,Ravid,G.,andSoroka,V. De-lurking in virtual communities: A social communication network approach to measuring the effects of social and cultural capital, in Proc. HICSS 2004: 70203.
 Zhang, X. and Zhu, F., Group size and incentives to contribute: A natural experiment at Chinese Wikipedia. SSRN eLibrary, 2009.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
Evidence about how readers become editors could be useful to promoting editorship in Wikipedia. While there is no one path to "full participation" , noticing and understanding the "deliberate cautiousness" of readers could help. Engaging with Talk pages (and perhaps other 'behind-the-scenes' pages) seems to help readers understand the way Wikipedia works; even when those readers do not become editors, they may be more able to assess and interpret what they are reading.
This was published in an open access journal.