Why People Contribute to Something

Being kind and helpful to others can “make us happier and give us a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Our teachers’ mantra was the same: never use Wikipedia to do your research. 

Their rationale was the fact that Wikipedia is an open-source online encyclopedia. It relies on crowd knowledge to update information, add and delete pages, as well as make changes to existing pages. It’s run by the nonprofit The Wikimedia Foundation, which is the reason why Wikipedia is constantly asking for users’ donations. 

Our teachers kind of had a point: All editors, whether they’re a Ph.D. or a student, can alter each other’s work on a Wikipedia page. As long as the information isn’t misleading, it will stay there until someone else alters it. 

It’s hard to put a finger on the exact demographic range of Wikipedia contributors since even minors can write for Wikipedia. The website even includes a page with guidelines in case a minor is spotted adding their personal information to a page. That could happen, and it’s up to dedicated Wikipedia contributors to keep an eye out for potential dangers. 

The thing is, people aren’t getting paid to do that. They aren’t paid to post on Wikipedia and similar open sources. What makes contributors take their time and effort to look for information, write pages, back them up with research, and publish it -- even if their names won’t be visible and they could be doing more important things? 

Among the reasons why people choose to invest their time on such platforms are...

They Want to Help Others

Plain and simple. As hard as it is to believe, selflessness is still a trait in this twisted day and age. 

Let’s stick to the Wikipedia example. For some people, it’s awesome to be a part of something that has helped them for so many years at school, in college, and throughout their youth. Now, they’re indirectly participating in someone else’s education, and they feel great about it. It’s like teaching at the school they grew up in. 

Kindness plays a huge role in that feeling of achievement. It’s no wonder so many people find that their purpose in life is to give back to their community. According to research, being kind and helpful to others can “make us happier and give us a sense of purpose and meaning.”

This also involves open-source platforms like GitHub and Web Highlighters like Glasp. These are places where people get the chance of sharing their learning process with members of the community they’re in, without expecting anything from them. If they help back, that’s awesome. If they don’t, that’s okay. In the end, users will feel great about lending a hand to someone.

They Want to Feel Knowledgeable

How would you feel if you knew thousands of people are using the page or paragraph you’ve written as a source of information? Like a boss, probably. If you’ve contributed to Wikipedia, this could be happening as you read this. Props to you. 

It’s human nature to want people to think highly of you. But there’s also such a thing as wanting to prove things to yourself. Knowing you’ve achieved something great and not needing to be praised for it is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s like clapping for yourself. 

Even if the main motivator isn’t to help others, contributing to something helps you feel like you’ve gifted others with your intelligence. Sound egocentric? It is. We often think we’re better than everyone else, even if we try to deny it. Scientific American said it all: “Much as we all like to think we're modest, most of us really aren't.” 

Particularly if you’re debating a topic you’re knowledgeable in, you know how to defend your points in case someone objects. That makes you feel great about yourself, and it should!

Ultimately, the information you’ve contributed to Wikipedia is 100% yours. Someone will have access to what you’ve written, and find it helpful thanks to you.

They Want to Learn from The Best — or Leave Their Insights to Others

I’ve previously mentioned GitHub and Web Highlighters. Like Wikipedia, these communities provide a network for like-minded users to interact and share their knowledge. 

GitHub is known as “the largest and most advanced development platform in the world”. 

If you’re an aspiring or professional software developer, you won’t want to be excluded from a huge group of experts. It’s a sort of fear of being left out (or FOBLO), which is a human survival mechanism. If you’re not part of a helpful group, you’re left at the mercy of your own limited knowledge. And that’s not optimal.

Back to GitHub, the fact that you’ll write less code thanks to the help of other approved projects and have other friendly coders critique your work is a win-win. After all, you’ll be learning at the same time you’ll be teaching. 

The same applies to Web Highlighters, or social highlighters, if you prefer to call them that way. 

Instead of being just a tool that helps people highlight texts online, other users can find your highlights and notes and learn from what you’ve clipped across the web. They can then add your insights to their studies and even compare them to their own. It’s a truly enriching tool for anyone looking to learn more in less time.

All in all, contributing to something is meant to leave a utilitarian legacy for future generations. And you can be a part of it.

See you next time,