Wikipedia's Ups and Downs

Mocked by academics for its lack of accuracy, beloved by students for being a 'homework tool' and utilised by everyone else to quickly become an expert on something, Wikipedia is one of the internet's most used websites. However, Wikipedia's greatest strength has become its biggest weakness - its reliance of volunteers.

When it first launched eight years ago, Wikipedia was a revelation - an online encyclopedia that allowed anyone to write and edit articles. The fact that it was free meant that online encyclopedias like Encarta quickly fell by the wayside, as Wikipedia strove to become "the sum of all human knowledge."

Of course, the fact that articles could be written by anyone meant that inaccuracies and controversy were soon synonymous with the Wikipedia name. Celebrities, for instance, were declared dead by the site when they were really alive (Miley Cyrus was reported dead in September 2008 when both Digg and Wikipedia said she had died in a car crash) and some of the most bizarre "facts" have been added to the most mundane pages (Tony Blair's page, for instance, once stated he hung up "posters of Adolf Hitler on his bedroom wall as a teenager."). And now, the fact that the site is so reliant on volunteer writers and editors has led to an inevitable 'stall'.

Reliant on volunteers

According to new research from a group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, the number of volunteers on Wikipedia has dropped dramatically in the recent months. According to The Times, "every month tens of thousands of Wikipedia's editors are going 'dead' - no longer actively contributing and updating the site - without a similar number of new contributors taking their place."

The data revealed that over the first three months of this year, the site suffered a net loss of 49,000 contributors, compared with a loss of about 4,900 during the same period last year. As such, many are worried that this mass exodus of writers could lead to the end of Wikipedia.Mocked by academics for its lack of accuracy, beloved by students for being a 'homework tool' and utilised by everyone else to quickly become an expert on something, Wikipedia is one of the internet's most used websites. However, Wikipedia's greatest strength has become its biggest weakness - its reliance of volunteers.

When it first launched eight years ago, Wikipedia was a revelation - an online encyclopedia that allowed anyone to write and edit articles. The fact that it was free meant that online encyclopedias like Encarta quickly fell by the wayside, as Wikipedia strove to become "the sum of all human knowledge."

Of course, the fact that articles could be written by anyone meant that inaccuracies and controversy were soon synonymous with the Wikipedia name. Celebrities, for instance, were declared dead by the site when they were really alive (Miley Cyrus was reported dead in September 2008 when both Digg and Wikipedia said she had died in a car crash) and some of the most bizarre "facts" have been added to the most mundane pages (Tony Blair's page, for instance, once stated he hung up "posters of Adolf Hitler on his bedroom wall as a teenager."). And now, the fact that the site is so reliant on volunteer writers and editors has led to an inevitable 'stall'.

Reliant on volunteers

According to new research from a group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, the number of volunteers on Wikipedia has dropped dramatically in the recent months. According to The Times, "every month tens of thousands of Wikipedia's editors are going 'dead' - no longer actively contributing and updating the site - without a similar number of new contributors taking their place."

The data revealed that over the first three months of this year, the site suffered a net loss of 49,000 contributors, compared with a loss of about 4,900 during the same period last year. As such, many are worried that this mass exodus of writers could lead to the end of Wikipedia.

Despite the site being as popular as ever (325 million visits per month), the research indicates that the English-language edition has lost almost at quarter of its 100,000 editors however some aren't worried.

Andrew Dalby, author of The World and Wikipedia: How We are Editing Reality and a regular editor of the site, believes that the fall in contributors is down to the fact that almost everything has been covered. "One question is, is there any new stuff to do on the site? When Wikipedia reaches three million articles, how many new articles can there be?"

He did add, however, that many contributors had become disheartened by the site in recent months. "There is an increase of bureaucracy and rules," he said. "Wikipedia grew because of the lack of rules. That has been forgotten. The rules are regarded as irritating and useless by many contributors."

Whether this spells the end of Wikipedia remains to be seen but for now, the site will no doubt continue to be a valuable resource for many.. including this writer.

Subscribe to the Daily Downloads Newsletter

Comments