Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Wikipedia Today

I found this story in Time Magazine where you can read the rest of the story by clicking on the blue type. Wikipedia has been a great source of information for me, and I am fascinated to know Wikipedia’s growth is slowing – and why . .

Is Wikipedia a Victim of Its Own Success?

Looking back, it was naive to expect Wikipedia’s joyride to last forever. Since its inception in 2001, the user-written online encyclopedia has expanded just as everything else online has: exponentially. Up until about two years ago, Wikipedians were adding, on average, some 2,200 new articles to the project every day. The English version hit the 2 million — article mark in September 2007 and then the 3 million mark in August 2009 — surpassing the 600-year-old Chinese Yongle Encyclopedia as the largest collection of general knowledge ever compiled (well, at least according to Wikipedia’s entry on itself).

But early in 2007, something strange happened: Wikipedia’s growth line flattened. People suddenly became reluctant to create new articles or fix errors or add their kernels of wisdom to existing pages. “When we first noticed it, we thought it was a blip,” says Ed Chi, a computer scientist at California’s Palo Alto Research Center whose lab has studied Wikipedia extensively. But Wikipedia peaked in March 2007 at about 820,000 contributors; the site hasn’t seen as many editors since. “By the middle of 2009, we realized that this was a real phenomenon,” says Chi. “It’s no longer growing exponentially. Something very different is happening now.”

What stunted Wikipedia’s growth? And what does the slump tell us about the long-term viability of such strange and invaluable online experiments? Perhaps that the Web has limits after all, particularly when it comes to the phenomenon known as crowdsourcing. Wikipedians — the volunteers who run the site, especially the approximately 1,000 editors who wield the most power over what you see — have been in a self-reflective mood. Not only is Wikipedia slowing, but also new stats suggest that hard-core participants are a pretty homogeneous set — the opposite of the ecumenical wiki ideal. Women, for instance, make up only 13% of contributors. The project’s annual conference in Buenos Aires this summer bustled with discussions about the numbers and how the movement can attract a wider class of participants.

At the same time, volunteers have been trying to improve Wikipedia’s trustworthiness, which has been sullied by a few defamatory hoaxes — most notably, one involving the journalist John Seigenthaler, whose Wikipedia entry falsely stated that he’d been a suspect in the John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations. They recently instituted a major change, imposing a layer of editorial control on entries about living people. In the past, only articles on high-profile subjects like Barack Obama were protected from anonymous revisions. Under the new plan, people can freely alter Wikipedia articles on, say, their local officials or company head — but those changes will become live only once they’ve been vetted by a Wikipedia administrator. “Few articles on Wikipedia are more important than those that are about people who are actually walking the earth,” says Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the encyclopedia. “What we want to do is find ways to be more fair, accurate, and to do better — to be nicer — to those people.”

Yet that gets to Wikipedia’s central dilemma. Chi’s research suggests that the encyclopedia thrives on chaos — that the more freewheeling it is, the better it can attract committed volunteers who keep adding to its corpus. But over the years, as Wikipedia has added layers of control to bolster accuracy and fairness, it has developed a kind of bureaucracy. “It may be that the bureaucracy is inevitable when a project like this becomes sufficiently important,” Chi says. But who wants to participate in a project lousy with bureaucrats?

There is a benign explanation for Wikipedia’s slackening pace: the site has simply hit the natural limit of knowledge expansion. In its early days, it was easy to add stuff. But once others had entered historical sketches of every American city, taxonomies of all the world’s species, bios of every character on The Sopranos and essentially everything else — well, what more could they expect you to add? So the only stuff left is esoteric, and it attracts fewer participants because the only editing jobs left are “janitorial” — making sure that articles are well formatted and readable.

Read the rest of the article Here


September 25, 2009 - Posted by | Experiment, Interconnected, News, Technical Issue


  1. I think humanity has reached the limit of its knowledge! Time to evolve into “floating brains in a jar” ! 😛

    Comment by Mathai | September 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. LLOOLLL – I think not hardly, Mathai!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 25, 2009 | Reply

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