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Study Finds That Wikipedia Is Having a Really, Really Hard Time Keeping Its Editors

Wikipedia has hit a roadblock, and it’s one unrelated to those once-ubiquitous “personal appeals” for funding by founder Jimmy Wales (you know what I’m talking about). This new problem is that Wikipedia, a site that relies on the public to create their content, is having trouble holding onto people who want to contribute to it.

According to a study published in the American Behavioral Science Journal, the number of Wikipedia’s English-language editors dropped 30% between 2006 and 2011, from 50,000 to 35,000. One of the major reasons for that is stricter standards for editors, meant to cut down on misinformation, that were introduced in 2007. That they would lead to a drop in contributors was expected. But, says lead researcher Aaron Halfaker, “What was most surprising was the scale of the problem.”

Says The Daily Dot:

“In 2006, only about 6 percent of ‘quality’ new editors had their contributions rejected—a.k.a. ‘reverted’ in Wikipedia lingo. In 2010, the number of contributions by new editors were being reverted at a rate of 1-in-4 by senior editors and the site’s own automated response systems.

Halfaker said that as a result, only about 11 percent of new editors have been staying on past their first two months, driving down the total number of contributors to the site. He said part of that has to do with the ‘nasty’ initial experience many new editors have.”

Another problem is a sort of unofficial hierarchy of editors, which often favors the edits made by veterans over newbies, making said newbies less inclined to stick around.

“From what I can extrapolate from our models,” Hafalker says, “Wikipedia isn’t going to run short on contributors for at least five years. The Wikimedia Foundation has a team working on the problem, so hopefully we’ll never get to that point.” Among the initiatives already in place to keep new editors from getting frustrated and quitting are the Wikipedia Teahouse, “a many-to-many support space designed specifically for new editors.”

Hafalker admits that, as Wikipedia is the first of its kind, it’s unknown how (or if) having a smaller number of editors affects the quality of information found on the site.

Normally I’d say that this wasn’t a big deal—the site’s been around for 11 years, an eternity in Internet time, and contributions were bound to drop off. But losing 15,000 editors in five years? That seems major. At least Wikipedia is aware of the problem and is taking action to turn things around. I’d hate to think that such a wonderful resource for time-wastage and research (but always be sure to fact-check what you find on Wikipedia, kids!) was in danger.

(via: The Daily Dot)

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  • Terence Ng

    While I recognize the seniority thing for editors, I actually stopped being a serious editor after a few years because the site was becoming MORE loose with its editing. New editors would come in, destroy a page with poor grammar, trivial content, and completely unsourced material and then it would get reverted, an explanation would be provided (I can only speak for my own actions when I say that it was all done as constructively as possible and without malice) and then the person would fight with you, wouldn’t give a crap about why or what the policies were, and then would be perfectly content to get into an editing war. If you took the issue to get it resolved, it wouldn’t happen. So it would just devolve into a revision war, and over what?

    The worst time was when I drafted a sourced section on intersectionality of heteronormativity and racism and some flag waving Conservative editor kept reverting it because HE didn’t buy it himself. I pointed out that regardless of what HE thought, the material was relevant because it was peer-reviewed and published, and therefore valid for inclusion. He claimed it biased the article, but never provided any opposing sourced content to balance the article. So I basically spent a bunch of time arguing with this asshole about why the sourced content I had didn’t jive with his personal brand of politics. I even think he challenged the credibility of the publication authors because he had a poem published once, but wouldn’t consider himself “an expert in poetic form”. WTF. And of course, I took it to review and nothing ever came of it.

    Editing conflicts were just turning Wikipedia into just another forum slum with the just as terrible people in it. So why waste your time fighting about online content when you know the content can be found elsewhere and kept from interference from people who don’t know what they’re doing?

    I still check in on the Jean Grey page, though. That article was my baby. :)

  • De Baisch

    This is essentially why I quit as well. I don’t mind disagreement but the constant pissing matches were just too much.

  • Anonymous

    Yup, got tired of the games. After more than 5000 edits I wandered off. It’s only a hobby when it’s fun, when it became work…blah

  • Milady Jenevere

    TVTropes is having this problem too, but it’s because it’s trying to become more like Wikipedia (no matter what it says on its front page). It used to make a point of not being serious in tone, not having issues over notability, and that trope names were just fine referencing specific things, as long as that thing was big enough to possibly be the trope codifier.

    Now… Not so much.The sense of humor over most of it has been chucked out. Fights are being started over notability, which – there’s not supposed to be any such thing as notability there. They’re starting to make things needlessly complex and very bland. Any jokes within the trope or trope name itself have been tossed out. I don’t know who made the decision that they needed to be to try and be Wikipedia, but that was never a good idea.

    As Terence said about Wikipedia itself: When it stops being fun and starts being work, you’re going to lose editors. And if you don’t stop that, you’re going to keep ON losing editors.

  • Ellie K

    If anything, I think that the television-based popular culture articles on Wikipedia receive far too much attention. TVTropes would be a lot better suited for that content. Unfortunately, it seems as though the level of detail suitable for something like… oh, maybe, the workings of an internal combustion engine for an automobile, is leaching over to your website.

    It IS okay to have fun, now and then! TVTropes should be fun, not fussing over faux notability. Notability?! Sigh… That is sad. Maybe things will get better, once the novelty of seeming precision wears off?

  • Ellie K

    I have read a number of posts similar to yours. It must have been so aggravating! I am still new, maybe 18 months, but am noticing how many articles remain mere stubs, even about Nobel prize winning economists. Instead, the people whom I would have expected to work on those articles are either writing up blue sky stuff of their own (“No original research?” What?!) or trying to stop those who behave like that. Some are contentious about any and everything. I feel sad when I read accusations of ignorance directed at editors with advanced degrees and/ or years of work experience in their field.

    The chemistry crowd is one of the best about matching level of detail with content type and trying to stop or avoid what you described. I like German Wikipedia people too! They are more cautious, make changes incrementally, are formal but polite. In fact… many of the non-English sites are like that. Wiktionary is also good. I was surprised, as I thought it would be fussy. It isn’t, I don’t know why exactly. I enjoy spending time there.

  • wicky woo

    Here’s a big hint. Editors are A.H.s who screw around and delete things just to get a rise out of hard working editors. Classic trolling. And I’m referring to elder editors who are in their 40′s.