Few websites have changed the way we access knowledge as much as Wikipedia. Now, however, it looks like the online encyclopedia is hitting some snags, as the number of volunteers who write and edit its articles is getting smaller. While talking to the Associated Press during Wikipedia’s annual Wikimania conference in Haifa, Israel, the site’s founder Jimmy Wales acknowledged that his organization is ”scrambling to simplify what he called ‘convoluted’ editing templates that may be discouraging people from writing and editing Wikipedia’s entries.”

Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales

Less than two years ago, Jimmy Wales still argued that the number of active editors on the site was stable. Today’s statement, as far as I can see, is the first public acknowledgement by Wales and Wikipedia that the number of contributors is indeed declining.

Over the years, Wikipedia has often been criticized for having a very convoluted and technically complex way of editing articles that doesn’t just involve learning the arcane markup language the site uses, but also navigating the politics of editing on the site. For beginners, this is a very high barrier of entry that some earlier projects were supposed to fix. These projects never really materialized, though.

Another reason that may play a role here may also be the fact that a large body of entries is now almost complete (or at least that the public has the impression that they are complete). Because of this, fewer users may feel the need to contribute to the project now than just a few years ago.

In an effort to get more volunteers to contribute to the project, Wikipedia also today announced that it is encouraging professors in India, Brazil and Europe to give their students assignments that involve the editing and writing of Wikipedia entries.

investigator 5pts

Google is the only reason Wikipedia is popular and seen as reliable. Does anyone know where to find that tool that gives you detailed stats on Wikipedia users? All you do is type their name in and press enter and you can see all kinds of stats on them, like reverts they've done, most edited pages, all the pages they've edited, when they joined and their last edit, maybe not that detailed but something like that. It also, if I remember right, showed some thing where like it showed which users they would conspire to block and investigate, I'm paraphrasing. But I could have sworn it showed like something like that, like interactions with administrators concerning users they were reporting as vandals. It was good because it showed who they were stalking.

minosp 5pts

Wikipedia is run, on the day to day level, by a collection of self aggrandizing people of limited knowledge, but great experience at wargaming and similar combative social networking, who do their best to drive off those with more skills and greater expertise, especially in important subject areas. My wife and I were driven away from our hobbyist editing by a small cadre of these administrator who hated the fact that well-educated lawyers dared to meddle in their playground, especially when extraordinarily badly informed decisions were challenged. One of those administrators, a "Gwen Gale," apparently devoted a great deal of effort to creating a cadre of "sockpuppets" to write articles promoting her own quite dreadful political fiction; when users exposed this, evidence of her misbehavior was expunged from public view the complaining editors were prevented from editing further, and her authority was, if anything, expanded. A major pastime among experienced Wikipedia editors seems to be settling scores with people they don't like, especially people they don't know but dislike vehemently. The territory resembles nothing so much as a second-rate high school run by failed cheerleaders under the direction of Afghan warlords.

moocow 5pts

Dammit Jimmy, it's not the f'scking templates, it's the m'fing deletionists. It's not like this hasn't been a serious problem for the last 5 years.

The only thing that will fix wikipedia is to forcibly retire editors after some term of service. That way crusty, power mad, social retards with unlimited time on their hands will get the hell out of the way and let WP start to grow again.

wikipedia used to be a thriving tree, growing and blossoming, now it's full of brain dead gardeners who've started pruning the tree to the point that it's now dying.

Fix the deletionist problem and you've fixed wikipedia...that's it.

daniellgeisler 5pts

As a person who has authored one of the main web sites on tetration, I decided several years ago to try and focus working in the public domain with Wikipedia and editing their tetration web page. At first things were OK, but an unending wave of people began editing the Wikipedia tetration page with their own unpublished research. This is in express violation of Wikipedia's rules, but it didn't stop people from editing the page with unsubstantiated information. After a while I gave up trying to police the page and I feel that the quality of the page to this day has been diminished with inappropriate edits.

solmersa 5pts

I agree with the other people here, there are people who actively "patrols" some themes, when you try to add something it is removed without a good explanation.

Also several articles instead of expanding are actually shrinking because someone thinks the information there does not need any addition, fix, update, and so forth, because those articles are so "perfect" in the way they see it. I bet they keep thinking how to shrink even more the already bare bones articles.

Check several math themes, when you read them you hardly get an idea of what the topic is, the explanation is superficial and if you are new to the theme you hardly get the idea, you better google somewhere for the information, and yet, if someone try to expand the article, the editings probably will get undone by those who does not have any didactic and which only worry about deleting lines.

corecorina 5pts

I am completely discouraged from adding to Wikipedia for the simple fact that they keep an iron grip on what content is 'allowed' and even when playing by their lengthy set of rules, they continue to delete additions without any explanation. I have better things to do with my time.

BillTheEditor 5pts

I gave up on trying to contribute content to Wikipedia or to edit content at least three or four years ago. The process was simply impossible if you were not one of the "in" people or if someone objected for whatever vague reason. Responses from editors ranged from arrogant and pedantic to incoherent. It was a big waste of time. I rarely refer to Wikipedia these days because I simply do not trust the information -- political bias and bad science dominate many articles, and I'd rather not have to spend even more time fact-checking what should be objective information.

JessiDarko 5pts

Having attempted to correct factual errors on wikipedia, and then have my edits undone because these facts are not politically correct, makes me unwilling to waste time trying to do it in the future. This happened several times on facts that were not in dispute or really political, but were inconvenient to one of the political parties. In one case it was a fact of science, and citing multiple authoritative sources (text books, peer reviewed papers, etc) wasn't sufficient-- the edits were just reverted. The other case it was a question of law, and I cited and quoted the law in question, again from authoritative sources (I think it was carnegie mellon that has the US Code online.)

Wikipedia has become a leftist organ. It is generally right for topics that leftist don't get their panties in a wad over, but it is totally biased on political issues. One example (not one I tried to edit, mind you) is global warming. Far be it from anyone to try and introduce actual science to those pages!

marshallk 5pts

They've taken a lot of steps recently to encourage new editors to stick around too, like adding the Love Button and adding the article rating widget, which was intended to get people over that line between consumption and contribution.

JonMwords 5pts

@marshallk Doesn't the rating widget almost seem like it could be a tool to _compensate_ for declining editorial oversight?

FredericL moderator 5pts

@marshallk true. But isn't there still a huge chasm between clicking a ratings button and learning the Wiki markup language?

marshallk 5pts

@FredericL I actually don't think Wikipedia markup is terribly hard for a non-technical person to learn but I suppose if people even have to *look at* HTML they pee their pants. I wonder sometimes if most people are opposed to learning anything new. At which point they are unlikely to be interested in contributing to Wikipedia anyway.

livefyresux 5pts

@marshallk People are overloaded. They're already confused by Facebook, I know I was at first, so why would they want to learn symbols in they're free time that are unlike anything they learned in school or on the job? It may be the concept of markup that's throwing them off rather than a symbol set.

It's been a while since I tried to edit anything on Wikipedia but I don't recall the markup being that problematic. Still, they don't even teach html as a normal part of the school curriculum and people don't want to have to work at figuring out new things when the payoff is unclear.So that will continue to be a barrier. For me, the barrier was dealing with all the uptight editors who think they know things that they don't actually know! And then don't acknowledge you when you make a successful case to have your content included. Reminded me too much of my editing days at the Open Directory so I haven't edited certain things that I'd really like to. I've got a block about it.

But I'm glad to hear you're not being an arrogant tech guy. I didn't think you were!

marshallk 5pts

@livefyresux it's a complex situation and I have conflicting feelings about it. I want the awesome power of the social web to be as accessible as possible, but it does require some expansion of a person's thinking and "messing around with stuff." That's doable for millions of people, but many more find it "very strange" as you put it. That makes me sad. I don't mean to blame them for that, but I'm also not sure what more can be done. How do you enable functionality to be invoked, beyond the simplest things like display of text and maybe a link, without the use of some symbols that require some learning and exploration? I feel like there's a widespread refusal to learn new symbols and it's depressing. I just don't know how much more intuitive the Wikipedia editing interface could be! I'll ponder what you're saying though.

livefyresux 5pts

@marshallk ps - Livefyre doesn't seem to be working too well. Couldn't log in using twitter or facebook. I hate these extra layers on sites.

Also, I'm trying to reply to my own comment rather than Marshall's. You can do that on other systems.

livefyresux 5pts

@marshallk "I suppose if people even have to *look at* HTML they pee their pants. I wonder sometimes if most people are opposed to learning anything new."

Damn, Marshall, that sounds pretty arrogant and derogatory. Maybe that's part of the problem at Wikipedia! I've worked with HTML quite a bit.

It's normal for me to mess around with that stuff but for any ordinary person, it seems very strange and there is no evident pathway to shifting out of that mindset given the way the tech/publishing community approach the presentation of that material.

Given that you've always seemed like a nice guy that spent a lot of time explaining simple things to everyday people, I'm kind of surprised at that comment.