Started eight years ago as a ‘side project’ by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia receives more than 300 million visitors each month, making it the fifth most popular website in the world. Yet its contributing authors, its very lifeblood, are leaving in droves. The number of contributing writers is decreasing at a faster rate than new writers are joining.
“We are not replenishing our ranks,” said Wales, “It is not a crisis, but I consider it to be important.”
In addition, writers are finding less and less to edit. Either everything has already been written about or nobody wants to spend their time editing Wikipedia anymore. Possibly both are true.
Along with a lack of new topics about which to write, new rules imposed to curb spamming and graffiti and infighting among contributors have assisted in the knowledge giant’s downfall.
“A lot of it is convoluted,” Wales said, “A lot of editorial guidelines … are impenetrable to new users.”
The new rules take up more than a hundred pages of space at Wikipedia. Started to circumvent the normally extensive lag time inherent in putting an entire encyclopedia online, Wikipedia applied ‘crowdsourcing’ to the online encyclopedia model.
Crowdsourcing is the principle of combining contributions from multiple users from all over the world. Wales added the ability of contributors to edit articles, and this is when the controversy began. However, this issue is not a new problem for Wikipedia. Ask your local librarian’s opinion about the site and you are likely to get sneers of disdain. Teachers, journalists, and just about any serious writer believe Wikipedia is a huge electronic printing house with no real editorial staff that publishes scores of self-written books contributed by self-appointed authors holding no credentials.
Gawker posted a similar article on the subject. The comment section offers another complaint to which Wales alludes. The pseudonymous SoCalMalaise writes:
I used to write and edit Wikipedia a lot. Some long articles are almost entirely written by me. It was a way to fine tune both my research and writing skills and enjoy the novelty of writing something that thousands (millions?) of people read. But soon I found that your work is frequently stifled by so-called “administrators” who are usually high school or college students with sub-par research and writing skills. These trolls have created a Kafka-esque labyrinth of self-contradictory “policies” and “guidelines” that they used to remove sentences, paragraphs, sections or even entire articles that skilled writers have volunteered to put down. They cherry-pick various parts of their rules as an excuse to act out their God complexes and strike out content. … And I’m not talking about a few bad apples. These people are everywhere! The whole writing-for-Wikipedia thing became very frustrating and just not worth my time.
In an effort to bolster Wikipedia’s credibility, Wales states that improving the accuracy of articles is a top priority. One of the major problems is consistency among the various entries. While some articles are fantastic, others are downright pathetic and even difficult to understand. To combat this problem, Wikipedia has increased the number of contributions from academics through an outreach program which explains the how and why of contributing articles. The once free-wheeling Wikipedia is now seeing the wisdom in using editors. Perhaps it still has a chance of making it onto your local librarian’s list of reputable content sources.
But it isn’t just the accuracy of the articles that’s draining Wikipedia. The site has lost its coolness and is no longer as popular with students. There are a few reasons students no longer flock to the site, but one of them is academia’s crack down on its use and validity. Over the years a certain stigma has been attached to Wikipedia and most students that care about doing well in their classes know that citing Wikipedia will probably guarantee them a low grade.
Will Wikipedia make a comeback? Wales has been very vocal about his intentions and about the problems facing the company, and is working on ways to keep the site alive. Advertising? Less rules? Better editing? Perhaps… paying contributors?
If you’d like to learn something from an actual professor instead of an anonymous writer on Wikipedia, check out one of our free sample videos from the math section of Educator.com!