Wikipedia: We’re Not Losing Contributors!

By Craig Buckler

Wikipedia usage reducingAccording to research conducted by Felipe Ortega at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Wikipedia suffered a net loss of 49,000 contributors in the first three months of 2009. That compared to a loss of 4,900 contributors during the same period in 2008. (View the report – PDF, 9MB).

The media pounced on the report as evidence Wikipedia was failing. The news was full of rash statements such as “contributors are leaving in unprecedented numbers”, “it’s definitely a worrying trend”, “editors are becoming disenchanted”, “the Wikipedia project could be starting to stall”, and “the site could vanish”.

It’s utter nonsense. Wikipedia remains one of the most popular sites on the web and is valuable source of plagiarism for every homework-hating student! Over 14 million articles have been published, it’s normally at the top of Google searches, and receives 325 million visits every month.

I suspect we’re observing a case of diminishing returns. When Wikipedia started, there was just one page so it’s initial growth was exponential. However, now there are 3 million articles in English alone; how easy is it for contributors to find a topic that hasn’t already been covered in considerable depth?

In addition, Wikipedia has evolved from a free-for-all into a more secure information resource. In the early days, it lured spammers and vandals who added or modified a significant number of pages. Those activities have been mostly banished, so frivolous updates are far less likely.

Finally, I’d question how the data was analyzed. How do you know that a contributor has left forever?

Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales has also responded to the reports:

Our internal numbers don’t confirm all the claims made … the number of active editors across all projects is stable and new editors are replaced at about the same pace as existing editors are leaving.

It’s important to note that Dr Ortega’s study of editing patterns defines an editor as anyone who made a single edit, however experimental. This results in a total count of three million editors. We choose to define editors as people who have made at least 5 edits. By our narrower definition, just under a million people are counted as editors.

You can’t keep growing forever – there are only so many people on the internet.

Do you think Wikipedia is failing? Or is this simply a case of old-media journalists wishing its demise?

  • tiggsy

    I did think the story (which I heard on radio 4) was probably wrong, but I’m pleased to find out I was correct, as it was a little bit worrying.

    I am an editor according to Jimmy Wales’ counting methods, though I don’t spend hours of my time on it. If I’m consulting Wikipedia as one of a number of sources and it contains obvious inaccuracies/problems with grammar/spelling, I’ll amend it, that’s all. I’m sure many people do this, and I don’t see why it would stop. On the other hand, if the numbers used to include lots of spammers, we should be grateful they’be been driven away.

  • The Barking Unicorn

    “Failing” means “declining nummber of editors?” I thought the point of Wikipedia was to accumulate knowledge, not editors.

    “In the matter of a difficult question it is more likely the correct answer will be derived by the few than by the many.” ~ Rene Descartes.

  • Wikipedia may be slowing down in terms of growth, but it’s going to stick around forever.

  • Anonymous

    don’t think wikipedia is going anywhere any time soon.
    of course the hype may lead to less contributions but that is still a great resource for all of us.

  • Icewedge

    I agree with you.

    Websites will grow exponentially, hit a high and decrease somewhat until they are stable.

  • don

    Of course you are.

  • Wardrop

    Of course Wikipedia isn’t failing. I just donated $100 to make sure :)

  • rozner

    Utter nonsense

  • savvydesigner

    No way!! wiki is the best info provider ever :)

  • Jasconius

    Do you think Wikipedia is failing? Or is this simply a case of old-media journalists wishing its demise?

    I think it’s an issue of new media bloggers making something out of nothing.

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