Sent from my iPod Touch
On Nov 23, 2009, at 17:45, Frederick Noronha [फ़रेदरिक
नोरोनया] فريدريك نورونيا
NOVEMBER 23, 2009
Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages
By JULIA ANGWIN and GEOFFREY A. FOWLER
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
That could have significant implications for the brand of
democratization that Wikipedia helped to unleash over the Internet --
the empowerment of the amateur.
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
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 reliability.
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 participation."
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 figures.
"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
“ I have an entry on Wiki on some stuff that happened to occur in t
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 the kitchen."
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
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 by volunteers.
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 contributor.
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 adjust."
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 Research Center.
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 free-content culture.
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin(a)wsj.com and Geoffrey A. Fowler
Frederick Noronha :: +91-832-2409490
Writing, editing, alt.publishing, photography, journalism
ANOTHER GOA: http://tiny.cc/anothergoa
Wikipedia-l mailing list