Wikipedia: We’re not dying but we need YOU

Wikipedia: We’re not dying but we need YOU

uncle_sam_wants_you_poster-p228010307634064617tdcp_400The Wikimedia Foundation has responded to recent reports that Wikipedia‘s army of volunteer editors is drying up.

As far as it’s concerned the online encyclopedia is doing just fine… but it could do with a few more people helping out.

A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted research that claimed that the site had lost 49,000 editors in the first quarter of 2009, compared to just 4,900 the year before.

The conclusion of the WSJ’s article was that Wikipedia was in terminal decline. As a site run entirely on financial donations and volunteer editors, a massive drop in support from its community is an obvious problem. Wikipedia is a hugely important silo of knowledge and to lose that thanks to the apathy of those that helped build it would be tragic.

Luckily the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation that looks after Wikipedia, says that rumours of the service’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

In a blog post today the Foundation writes that too much is being read into the research behind the Wall Street Journal’s article. For a start, the research didn’t account for editors who might be taking an extended break from editing the site. What’s more, the ‘drop in editor numbers’ included all users of the site who had made even one small edit (as small as fixing a typo or adding a link).

It’s logical that many of these would never come back – it takes a certain kind of person to dedicate their time to significantly improving a public resource like Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation itself defines an ‘editor’ as anyone who has made at least five edits. So what do Wikimedia’s own numbers say? Apparently that…

  • Wikipedia’s worldwide audience is growing. There was a 6% increase in traffic from September to October this year, for example.
  • Thousands of new articles are being add to the site every day, adding to the 14.4 million already on there.
  • The number of editors peaked in 2007 before declining slightly and has remained stable ever since. As people stop making edits, a roughly equal number start up.

The Foundation says it doesn’t know the ideal number of editors Wikipedia requires (although surely everyone on the planet would be the ideal?), but it does say that it doesn’t have enough and needs a “significant increase”.

So, why not help out? If you’ve ever found Wikipedia useful (who hasn’t?) maybe today’s the day to put something back by writing or editing an article there.

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