Individual focus and knowledge contribution

  • Lada A. Adamic University of Michigan
  • Xiao Wei University of Michigan
  • Jiang Yang University of Michigan
  • Sean Gerrish Princeton
  • Kevin K Nam University of Michigan
  • Gavin S. Clarkson University of Houston
Keywords: focus, knowledge contribution, Wikipedia, question and answer forums


Before contributing new knowledge, individuals must attain requisite background knowledge or skills through schooling, training, practice, and experience. Given limited time, individuals often choose either to focus on few areas, where they build deep expertise, or to delve less deeply and distribute their attention and efforts across several areas. In this paper we measure the relationship between the narrowness of focus and the quality of contribution across a range of both traditional and recent knowledge sharing media, including scholarly articles, patents, Wikipedia, and online question and answer forums. Across all systems, we observe a small but significant positive correlation between focus and quality.

Author Biographies

Lada A. Adamic, University of Michigan
Lada A. Adamic is an assistant professor in the School of Information and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.
Xiao Wei, University of Michigan
Xiao Wei is a masters student and research assistant, School of Information, University of Michigan
Jiang Yang, University of Michigan
Jiang Yang is a PhD candidate, School of Information, University of Michigan.
Sean Gerrish, Princeton
Sean Gerrish is a PhD candidate, Dept. of Computer Science, Princeton.
Kevin K Nam, University of Michigan
Kevin K. Nam is a PhD candidate, School of Information, University of Michigan.
Gavin S. Clarkson, University of Houston
Gavin Clarkson is an associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law.
How to Cite
Adamic, L. A., Wei, X., Yang, J., Gerrish, S., Nam, K. K., & Clarkson, G. S. (2010). Individual focus and knowledge contribution. First Monday, 15(3).