[p2p-research] the wikipedia decline
michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Wed Nov 25 10:56:35 CET 2009
Despite the dismissal by paul hartzog of my interpretation, the fall of
wikipedia pretty much started with the victory of the exclusionists ... this
is pretty much confirmed by the article,
with the revolt of the german wikipedia hackers, we now have a realistic
chance to regain a inclusionist Wikipedia with a real democratic peer
By JULIA ANGWIN and GEOFFREY A. FOWLER
Wikipedia.org is the fifth-most-popular Web site in the world, with roughly
325 million monthly visitors. But 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
News Hub: Wikipedia Volunteers Quit
Wikipedia is extremely popular with the public, but not so much with the
volunteers who run the site. They're quitting, raising questions about the
future of Wikipedia, says WSJ.com Senior Technology Editor Julia Angwin.
Volunteers have been departing the project that bills itself as "the free
encyclopedia that anyone can edit" faster than new ones have been joining,
and the net losses have accelerated over the past year. 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, according to Spanish researcher Felipe Ortega, who analyzed
Wikipedia's data on the editing histories of its more than three million
active contributors in 10 languages.
Eight years after Wikipedia began with a goal to provide everyone in the
world free access to "the sum of all human knowledge," the declines in
participation have raised questions about the encyclopedia's ability to
continue expanding its breadth and improving its accuracy. Errors and
deliberate insertions of false information by vandals have undermined its
Executives at the Wikimedia Foundation, which finances and oversees the
nonprofit venture, acknowledge the declines, but believe they can continue
to build a useful encyclopedia with a smaller pool of contributors. "We need
sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done," says Sue Gardner,
executive director of the foundation. "But the purpose of the project is not
Is Wikipedia Too Unfriendly to Newbies?
How to Make $55,000 by Giving Away Your Work
Indeed, Wikipedia remains enormously popular among users, with the number of
Web visitors growing 20% in the 12 months ending in September, according to
comScore Media Metrix.
Wikipedia contributors have been debating widely what is behind the declines
in volunteers. One factor is that many topics already have been written
about. Another is the plethora of rules Wikipedia has adopted to bring order
to its unruly universe -- particularly to reduce infighting among
contributors about write-ups of controversial subjects and polarizing
"Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment," contends Mr. Ortega, a
project manager at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan
Carlos in Madrid. "Many people are getting burnt out when they have to
debate about the contents of certain articles again and again."
Wikipedia's struggles raise questions about the evolution of
"crowdsourcing," one of the Internet era's most cherished principles.
Crowdsourcing posits that there is wisdom in aggregating independent
contributions from multitudes of Web users. It has been promoted as a new
and better way for large numbers of individuals to collaborate on tasks,
without the rules and hierarchies of traditional organizations.
But as it matures, Wikipedia, one of the world's largest crowdsourcing
initiatives, is becoming less freewheeling and more like the organizations
it set out to replace. Today, its rules are spelled out across hundreds of
Web pages. Increasingly, newcomers who try to edit are informed that they
have unwittingly broken a rule -- and find their edits deleted, according to
a study by researchers at Xerox Corp.
“ I have an entry on Wiki on some stuff that happened to occur in the 1500s.
Some of the commentary/corrections that were done were most helpful in
filling out the article, but the amount of stuff that one had to go through
hardly justifies the effort when it is volunteer time that I am contributing
out of my life. ”
— William Ledsham
"People generally have this idea that the wisdom of crowds is a pixie dust
that you sprinkle on a system and magical things happen," says Aniket
Kittur, an assistant professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie
Mellon University who has studied Wikipedia and other large online community
projects. "Yet the more people you throw at a problem, the more difficulty
you are going to have with coordinating those people. It's too many cooks in
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who is chairman emeritus of the foundation,
acknowledges participation has been declining. But he says it still isn't
clear to him what the "right" number of volunteer "Wikipedians" should be.
"If people think Wikipedia is done," he says, meaning that with three
million articles it is hard to find new things to write about, "that's
substantial. But if the community has become more hostile to newbies, that's
a correctable problem."
Mr. Wales says his top priority is to improve the accuracy of Wikipedia's
articles. He's pushing a new feature that would require top editors to
approve all edits before they are displayed on the site. The idea is to
prevent the kind of vandalism that in January declared Sen. Edward Kennedy's
death months before his actual passing.
View Full Image
Nicolas Goldberg for The Wall Street Journal
Jimmy Wales, founder of the online encyclopedia, which is written and edited
Mr. Wales, a onetime options trader in Chicago, founded Wikipedia in 2001
amid frustration that his effort to create an online encyclopedia was
hampered by the slow pace of copy-editing and getting feedback from experts.
He saw Wikipedia as a side project -- a radical experiment with software
that allows multiple people to edit the same Web page. The term "wiki" comes
from the Hawaiian word for fast.
The collaborative software fostered a unique form of online governance. One
of Wikipedia's principles is that decisions should be made by
consensus-building. One of the few unbreakable rules is that articles must
be written from a neutral point of view. Another is that anyone should be
able to edit most articles. One policy serves as a coda: "Ignore all rules."
The Wikimedia Foundation employs a staff of 34, mostly in San Francisco, to
run the site's computers, guide its planning and serve as its public face.
In its fiscal year ended in June, it reported expenses of $5.6 million. It
funds its operations mostly through donations. Earlier this month, it
launched a campaign to raise $7.5 million from users.
Wikipedia's popularity has strained its consensus-building culture to the
breaking point. Wikipedia is now a constant target for vandals who spray
virtual graffiti throughout the site -- everything from political views
presented as facts to jokes about their friends -- and spammers who try to
insert marketing messages into articles.
In 2005, journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. wrote about his own Wikipedia
write-up, which unjustly accused him of murder. The resulting bad press was
a wake-up call. Wikipedians began getting more aggressive about patrolling
for vandals and blocking suspicious edits, according to Andrew Lih, a
professor at the University of Southern California and a regular Wikipedia
That helped transform the site into a more hierarchical society where
volunteers had to negotiate a thicket of new rules. Wikipedia rolled out new
antivandalism features, including "semiprotection," which prevents newcomers
from editing certain controversial articles.
"It was easier when I joined in 2004," says Kat Walsh, a longtime
contributor who serves on Wikimedia's board of trustees. "Everything was a
little less complicated.... It's harder and harder for new people to
In 2008, Wikipedia's editors deleted one in four contributions from
infrequent contributors, up sharply from one in 10 in 2005, according to
data compiled by social-computing researcher Ed Chi of Xerox's Palo Alto
Nina Paley, a New York cartoonist who calls herself an "information
radical," had no luck when she tried to post her syndicated comic strips
from the '90s. She does not copyright their artwork but instead makes money
on ancillary products and services, making her perfect for Wikipedia's
It took her a few days to decipher Wikipedia's software."I figured out how
to do it with this really weird, ugly code," she says. "I went to bed
feeling so proud of myself, and I woke up and found it had been deleted
because it was 'out of scope.'"
A Wikipedia editor had decided that Ms. Paley's comics didn't meet the
criteria for educational art. Another editor weighed in with questions about
whether she had copyright permission for the photo of herself that she
uploaded. She did.
Ultimately, it was decided that Ms. Paley's comics were suitable for the
site. Samuel Klein, a veteran Wikipedian who serves on the board of
trustees, intervened and restored her contributions. Mr. Klein says
experiences like Ms. Paley's happen too often. Mr. Klein says that the
Wikipedia community needs to rein in so-called deletionists -- editors who
shoot first and ask questions later.
View Full Image
Nicolas Goldberg for The Wall Street Journal
"Wikipedians" from around the world gathered in August at the annual
Wikimania conference in Buenos Aires
The Wikimedia Foundation says it is seeking to increase participation, but
that growing the overall number of participants isn't its main focus.
"The early days were a gold rush," says Ms. Gardner, the foundation's
executive director. "They attracted lots and lots of people, because a new
person could write about anything." The encyclopedia isn't finished, she
says, but the "easy work" of contributing is done.
To attract new recruits to help with the remaining work, Ms. Gardner has
hired an outreach team, held seminars to train editors in overlooked
categories, and launched task forces to seek ways to increase participation
in markets such as India. The foundation also invested $890,000 in a new
design for the site, slated to go live in the next few months, that aims to
make editing easier for contributors who aren't computer-savvy.
Wikipedia on the Decline
WSJ's Julia Angwin interviews Andrew Lih, author of Wikipedia Revolution,
about why volunteers are increasingly quitting Wikipedia.
She says increasing contributor diversity is her top goal. A survey the
foundation conducted last year determined that the average age of an editor
is 26.8 years, and that 87% of them are men.
Much of the task of making Wikipedia more welcoming to newcomers falls to
Frank Schulenburg, the foundation's head of public outreach. An academic, he
began contributing to articles about French philosophers on the German
Wikipedia in 2005.
"The community has created its own language, and that is certainly a barrier
to new participants," he says.
One of Mr. Schulenburg's first projects, called the "bookshelf," is an
effort to gather the basic rules for contributing to Wikipedia in one place
for newcomers. He hopes the new multimedia bookshelf will be the Wikipedia
community's equivalent of a high-school civics textbook.
In Germany, to recruit more academics, Mr. Schulenburg had devised an
educational program called Wikipedia Academy. In July, he conducted the
first such program in the U.S., for scientists and administrators at the
National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. His goal was to entice the
scientists to contribute.
Wikipedia already attracts lots of academics, but science isn't its
strength. By its own internal grading standards, the article on Louis
Pasteur, one of the founders of microbiology, for example, is lower in
quality than its article on James T. Kirk, the fictional "Star Trek"
For the July event, Mr. Schulenburg got about 100 scientists and NIH
staffers to spend the day listening to arguments about why they should
bother contributing to Wikipedia, despite the fact that it doesn't pay,
won't help them get a grant or even win them applause from their peers.
His audience was skeptical about the lack of credentials among Wikipedia
editors. "One of my concerns is not knowing who the editor is," said Lakshmi
Grama, a communications official from the National Cancer Institute.
Vote: How would you grade the quality of the content on Wikipedia?
Several participants started contributing to Wikipedia right after the
event. The NIH says it is considering whether to adopt formal policies to
encourage its staff to contribute while at work.
Each year, Wikipedians from around the world gather at a conference they
call Wikimania. At this year's meeting in Buenos Aires in August,
participants at one session debated the implications of the demographic
"The number one headline I have been seeing for five years is that Wikipedia
is dying," said Mathias Schindler, a board member of Wikimedia Germany. He
argued that Wikipedia needed to focus less on the total number of articles
and more on "smarter metrics" such as article quality.
He said he disagreed with dire views about the project's future. "I don't
expect to see Wikipedia follow the rule of any curve or any projection."
Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin at wsj.com and Geoffrey A. Fowler at
geoffrey.fowler at wsj.com
Work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhurakij_Pundit_University - Research:
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P2P Foundation: http://p2pfoundation.net - http://blog.p2pfoundation.net
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