Blown To Bits

Is Wikipedia Getting Middle Aged?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

The Wall Street Journal (story here; subscription needed) reports that Wikipedia is losing editors faster than it is recruiting new ones. Since about the beginning of 2008, departures have exceeded arrivals in the corps of volunteers who contribute to Wikipedia and scour it for accuracy–or in some cases, opportunities for petty vandalism.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, and the Journal raises several possibilities without claiming it knows what is true. The original editors have been at it for almost a decade; perhaps they have burned out. Perhaps all the easy and interesting stories have been written; there isn’t much new to say about Crime and Punishment within Wikipedia’s stylistic strictures. (In fact if you check that entry’s history, it was modified only 10 days ago, but only to reverse some act of vandalism.) Can it be that from the standpoint of the totality of human knowledge, Wikipedia editing has now reached a state of diminishing returns? Also, perhaps, it is not so much fun as it used to be; there are more rules to follow, and more people checking on your edits, than there used to be.

It’s an important question. Wikipedia is one great success of crowdsourcing, of a useful artifact produced using the lunatic fringe of democratic participation. What if the model is unsustainable after awhile, because at some point there are more people who have their fun as trolls than there are as builders?

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