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.