Externalities in knowledge production: Evidence from a randomized field experiment

Marit Hinnosaar, Toomas Hinnosaar, Michael Kummer, Olga Slivko

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Are there positive or negative externalities in knowledge production? We analyze whether current contributions to knowledge production increase or decrease the future growth of knowledge. To assess this, we use a randomized field experiment that added content to some pages in Wikipedia while leaving similar pages unchanged. We compare subsequent content growth over the next 4 years between the treatment and control groups. Our estimates allow us to rule out effects on 4-year growth of content length larger than twelve percent. We can also rule out effects on 4-year growth of content quality larger than four points, which is less than one-fifth of the size of the treatment itself. The treatment increased editing activity in the first 2 years, but most of these edits only modified the text added by the treatment. Our results have implications for information seeding and incentivizing contributions. They imply that additional content may inspire future contributions in the short- and medium-term but do not generate large externalities in the long term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)706-733
Number of pages28
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number2
Early online date1 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Field experiment
  • Knowledge accumulation
  • Public goods provision
  • User-generated content
  • Wikipedia

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