Internet industry types keep passing around an article by Tom Simonite in MIT’s Technology Review about how Wikipedia is in decline.
Here’s the gist of what everyone is worried about.
The big problems:
The number of people writing and editing entries is shrinking. Simonite: “The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia — and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation — has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking.”
The people writing and editing entries are 90% entirely male. Simonite: “The site’s skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy.”
The site lacks information about non-Western topics. Simonite: “84 per cent of entries tagged with a location were about Europe or North America. Antarctica had more entries than any nation in Africa or South America.”
The reasons for these big problems:
Quality safeguards work too well. There once was a worry that Wikipedia would be over-run with newbie editors with low standards. So, Simonite writes, “The project’s most active volunteers introduced a raft of new editing tools and bureaucratic procedures intended to combat the bad edits … Since 2007, when the new controls began to bite, the likelihood of a new participant’s edit being immediately deleted has steadily climbed. Over the same period, the proportion of those deletions made by automated tools rather than humans grew. Unsurprisingly, the data also indicate that well-intentioned newcomers are far less likely to still be editing Wikipedia two months after their first try.”
It’s a bureaucratic mess. Simonite: “The page explaining a policy called Neutral Point of View, one of “five pillars” fundamental to Wikipedia, is almost 5,000 words long.”
- Current editors hate new features that might help recruit new ones. Simonite tells the story of how the foundation that runs Wikipedia came up with a new software for editing posts that eliminated the need for editors to understand code when writing entries. Wikipedia’s editors rebelled at the user-friendly interface, and now it’s hidden.
The good news is that Wikimedia Foundation, which supports Wikipedia, is doing fine financially. Under Sue Gardner, its annual fundraising has gone from $US4 million to $US45 million. So it has a lot of time to figure out how to get additional, and more diverse, editors working on the site.