Is Wikipedia Decaying or Growing Up?

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

In the Wall Street Journal, the article titled “Volunteers Log off as Wikipedia Ages” (subscription only) reports on statistics showing the rapid decline of active Wikipedians (volunteer editors of Wikipedia).  “In the first three months of 2009, the English-language Wikipedia suffered a net loss of more than 49,000 editors, compared to a net loss of 4,900 during the same period a year earlier”

As the WSJ requires a subscription to access the full article, search here through google news. It’ll be available through Google for the “first click free”. 

In the WSJ and on several blogs, the reception has varied depending on what is more valued: accuracy or diversity. For those more interested in accuracy, the decline in numbers is not a problem. For those who see Wikipedia as a democratic knowledge production at its best, declining participation equates to a decline in the value of the world’s largest “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”.


The authors of the WSJ article attribute this decline, in part, to new, more complicated, processes, now in place by the editorial board to improve quality. As Wikipedia raises it’s standards for quality, the crowd of users willing or able to contribute is declined.


The Wall Street Journal notes why this trend is of crucial importance for Wikipedia:


“Unprecedented numbers of the millions of online volunteers who write, edit and police it are quitting. That could have significant implications for the brand of democratization that Wikipedia helped to unleash over the Internet — the empowerment of the amateur.”


Also on the Wall Street Journal, Julia Angwin interviews Andrew Lih, author of Wikipedia Revolution:

On the Technology Liberation Front, blogger Adam Thierer  questions “Is Wikipedia Dying or Just Maturing?”:


Personally, I welcome Wikipedia’s recent changes and think it’s a sign that the Wikimedia Foundation takes quality control seriously.  If, in an effort to improve the quality of entries, new posting guidelines result in small drop-off in the number of contributors, some of us can live with that.  The question is: Does it diminish Wikipedia’s overwhelming strength–diversity.  I’d hate to think that certain niche topics go uncovered because new guidelines are overly restrictive.


The Resource Shelf covered an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The blogger observes:


This small group mentality can be a blessing when editing articles but it is also one of the site’s biggest weaknesses: Wikipedia’s pool of contributors can tend towards the homogenous – or “a certain type of person”, in Wales’ words.


Simon Pulsifer, once Wikipedia’s top tier contributor, expressed concern on the Toronto Star:


With a shrinking stable of contributors, Pulsifer sees Wikipedia evolving, in the next eight years, into an online resource where “a lot of articles will be locked down. The history of Wikipedia has been one of increasing barriers to changing articles.


On the Guardian’s  Technology Blog, Jack Schofield asks; “Have you stopped editing Wikipedia? And if so, is it doomed?”. And answers:


Although Wikipedia has been a poster-child for “user generated content” and “crowd-sourcing,” the community-based approach has always been a means, not an end. The aim of Wikipedia is to produce a viable free encyclopedia, not just in English but in all the world’s major languages. Wikipedia doesn’t have to care how the work gets done, as long as it gets done for nothing.