Sparrows and Owls: Characterisation of Expert Behaviour in StackOverflow

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Abstract

Question Answering platforms are becoming an important repository of crowd-generated knowledge. In these systems a relatively small subset of users is responsible for the majority of the contributions, and ultimately, for the success of the Q/A system itself. However, due to built-in incentivization mechanisms, standard expert identification methods often misclassify very active users for knowledgable ones, and misjudge activeness for expertise. This paper contributes a novel metric for expert identification, which provides a better characterisation of users’ expertise by focusing on the quality of their contributions. We identify two classes of relevant users, namely sparrows and owls, and we describe several behavioural properties in the context of the StackOverflow Q/A system. Our results contribute new insights to the study of expert behaviour in Q/A platforms, that are relevant to a variety of contexts and applications.