The Hidden Costs of Requiring Accounts: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Peer Production

Benjamin Mako Hill*, Aaron Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Online communities, like Wikipedia, produce valuable public information goods. Whereas some of these communities require would-be contributors to create accounts, many do not. Does this requirement catalyze cooperation or inhibit participation? Prior research provides divergent predictions but little causal evidence. We conduct an empirical test using longitudinal data from 136 natural experiments where would-be contributors to wikis were suddenly required to log in to contribute. Requiring accounts leads to a small increase in account creation, but reduces both high- and low-quality contributions from registered and unregistered participants. Although the change deters a large portion of low-quality participation, the vast majority of deterred contributions are of higher quality. We conclude that requiring accounts introduces an undertheorized tradeoff for public goods production in interactive communication systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-795
Number of pages25
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • information systems
  • online communities
  • peer production
  • public information goods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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