Wikipedia on Staying Relevant to a Diverse World

How Many Editors Does it Take to Stay Accurate?

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We recently reported on the notion that Wikipedia losing editors could lead to a decline in accuracy. Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, tells WebProNews growth in editing has slowed, but the number of editors is just flat, and not declining.

Do you think Wikipedia is usually accurate or do you frequently encounter issues? Discuss here.

The Wikimedia Foundation raised $3 million in just ten days right in the middle of the recession. This is one reason why Gardner was named the Ultimate Game Changer for media by the Huffington Post. That publication says Gardner changed the game by "taking the people’s online encyclopedia to the next level." Gardner answered a few questions for us, and the following is the product of that Q&A.

WebProNews: Can you tell us a little about how the Wikimedia Foundation was able to raise $3 million in just ten days, to cover its operating budget for 2009?

Sue Gardner: Sure. The Wikimedia Foundation’s been running an annual fundraising campaign since 2005 and every year, donations have increased.  Last year, Jimmy [Wales – co-founder of Wikipedia] wrote a really lovely letter asking for people to help us, which we published on December 23.  We immediately had a huge spike in donations, with more than 50,000 coming in over the next eight days — pushing us past our goal for the year, and enabling us to end the campaign early.

It was fantastic, and really exceeded our expectations. Last winter the global economic outlook was really bad – Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy, AIG was getting bailed out, and housing prices were collapsing.  For us to push past our goal in that really difficult and uncertain economy was thrilling.

WPN: How has this compared to previous years? Do you expect a similar situation in 2010?

SG: Every year, the number of people donating to the Wikimedia Foundation has increased, and the total dollar amount has increased too. In 2005-06, we brought in about 1.5 million dollars. In 2006-07, we brought in about 2.7 million.  In 2007-08, we brought in 5.1 million, and last year we brought in 7.4 million.  This year, we plan to raise a total of 10.6 million.  We think that’s realistic.

WPN: A recent Wall Street Journal article  pointed out that the number of editors for Wikipedia is dropping drastically. What do you attribute this to?

Sue Gardner SG: Well first, and importantly, the data don’t actually show that the number of editors is dropping dramatically.  What the data show are that the growth of editing on Wikipedia, which had been increasing exponentially, has slowed.  Wikipedia’s readership continues to grow, the number of articles continues to grow, and the growth in number of active editors started to slow down several years ago.  The number of active editors, which we define as people who make five or more edits in a given month, is now pretty flat: it is neither growing nor shrinking.  So, upshot: I think quite a bit of the media coverage has been overly alarmist.

Having said that, it is true that the number of active editors is flat, and that concerns me.  Nobody knows what number of active editors is necessary for Wikipedia to stay current and well-maintained.  We do know that the easy work is now more-or-less complete: there are good, rich articles on most obvious topics like Barack Obama and the human brain and the House of Commons and COBOL. So it may be that a smaller number of editors is all that is required for the work that remains to us now, which is more related to polishing and updating and improving existing articles, rather than generating lots of new ones.  We don’t know.  Nobody knows, because nothing like Wikipedia has ever existed before.

Regardless, I am interested in broadening the pool of people who edit Wikipedia.  Currently, our core editing community is 87% male – mostly European and North American men in their twenties, many of whom are in graduate school.  It makes sense to me for plenty of reasons, why that is our core editing demographic.  But I know from my many years in journalism that you need a broad and diverse group of people making an editorial product, in order for that product to be relevant and interesting to a broad and diverse group of readers.  In many ways, Wikipedia editors are a much more diverse group than any newsroom ever assembled – for example, Wikipedia editors span across the political spectrum, and exist in every country.  Having said that, I think Wikipedia itself would be better able to serve its readership, if its editing community was more fully reflective  of readers.  So I would like to expand our pool of editors, to include a wider range of people.

WPN: Not that it will ever truly be complete, but is Wikipedia getting closer to covering every topic? In other words, is a lack of topics to cover a big factor in the diminishing number of new editors?

SG: Yes, definitely.  Our editors say themselves that there is less to write than there used to be.  We sometimes use the phrase “the gold rush is over.”  The article about the sun has been written, the article about Africa has been written.  It is definitely harder today to make a useful contribution than it was in 2003, when Wikipedia was more of a green field.

Wikipedia forever

WPN: Some have criticized the hurdles one has to go through to make an edit to a Wikipedia entry, and suggest that the site is becoming more like a traditional encyclopedia than the truly open format that it has been known for over the years. What is your response to such commentary?

SG: Anyone can edit Wikipedia, in theory.  In practice, editing Wikipedia is unnecessarily hard for many people. We’re working to make it easier.

Last year, we launched our first project ever designed to make the Wikipedia editing interface more user-friendly.  We were finding that the unnecessary complexity of the editing interface was acting as a significant barrier to new people who would otherwise have been terrific editors: they just weren’t as tech-centric or tech-positive as our current core editing community.  They did not want to learn wiki syntax.  So, we’re currently on I believe the third release of our usability project.  That’s an important step in reducing one barrier to participation.

Another barrier is just getting oriented.  There are thousands of pages on Wikipedia of instructional materials telling people how to edit: these are editorial policies and practices and procedures, like you would find in any newsroom or in the offices of any educational publisher.  But we want anyone to be able to edit usefully, not just people who have managed to read thousands of pages of instruction. So, our head of public outreach, Frank Schulenburg, has launched a project designed to create a set of simple, high-level instructional materials, designed to make orientation easier for new people.

We also run what are called Wikipedia Academies — basically, these are one or two day workshops designed to coach people, face-to-face, in how to edit Wikipedia.  We run Wikipedia Academies mainly for university or institutional audiences – for example, we had one a few months ago in the DC area, in which we coached more than a hundred National Institute of Health employees, in how –and why– to edit Wikipedia.

WPN: What are the main goals/points of focus for the Wikimedia Foundation in 2010?

SG: We are doing a lot of work on usability and outreach.  And we’re also engaged in a big, year-long collaborative strategy development project.  Because we’re Wikipedia, the strategy development is all happening publicly, on a wiki, and it’s open to anyone to participate in.  I am pretty sure it’s the first time strategy has ever been developed this way: it’s incredibly interesting watching it take shape.  I’m expecting the strategy project will result in a new focus on increasing reach and participation in developing countries, where we generally underperform relative to richer countries.  And it will also deepen our focus on growing the editing community, and making Wikipedia more user-friendly and enjoyable to edit.

WebProNews would like to thank Gardner for answering our questions, and sharing her responses with our readers.

Having read Gardner’s responses, how do you view the future of Wikipedia. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Wikimedia Reels In $500,000 Grant

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  • jim

    A great source of information – but as with any web-based source, one must use several sources. I use wikipedia as a first source. Generally, the contributors and editors have done a remarkably good job.

    • http://rapidfacilityservices.com.au andrew

      Couldnt agree more! as with anything especially on the net, you need to have more than one source for information and while i love wikki, i dont 100% trust everything it says.

  • http://www.cyber-key.com M.-J. Taylor

    I was pretty skeptical of its accuracy when I first encountered wikipedia but I reasoned that there are enough knowledgeable people out there it correct problems. Like the commenter before me, I have come to rely on it for at least an initial resource. After all, I am not going to drag out the Encyclopedia Britannica (which I grew up on) when I can browse the web. I do occasionally find problems though. I was recently writing an article on Key West and I wanted information on the size and number of buildings for the Old Town Historic District. The wiki entry, it turns out, is very outdated and I still need to correct my story … and I guess I ought to go and fix the wiki entry, too, eh?

  • http://www.kratom-world.com Kratom

    Trouble is anyone can edit the pages. This leave wikipedia open for abuse.

  • http://www.elgms.com/forum/ Kevin

    The only issues that I have seen is the heavy handed moderators.

    They think that the world revolves around the metric system. A lot of the moderators refuse to post measurements in standard format instead of metric.

    The moderators seem to have some kind of hatred for entries on Console and PC games. Even though games have helped shape parts of our society, some of the moderators have posted stuff like “this is not a gaming fan site.”

    Non-famous people, who simply have a youtube channel and facebook page can get their own page on wikipedia? What is that all about? An example of this is Brooke Brodack. She has a youtube channel, she has been on TV, and so what? That does not make her famous enough to have a wikipedia page.

    Adding links to resource sites is dealt with swiftly. Unless your some kind of super authority on the topic, your not good enough for wikipedia.

  • Truthteller

    There are a number of companies and organizations that hire people like me to write ‘Wikipedia articles.’ These articles are much like advertorials and are designed to promote the company or organization’s product or service. Combined with the obvious political and social issue bias that runs amok throughout Wikipedia, I find it a very inaccurate resource for serious research.

    With an agenda to meet, it is no wonder that those supporting that agenda are throwing money at Wikipedia like there is no tomorrow. When you have millions of kids, who will eventually be the age of majority and able to vote, reading Wikipedia as the gospel truth, you will spend the money to shape those minds.

    As I have stated previously, I have done substantial research using hundreds of Wikipedia entries and the pattern is disturbing. Any skeptic should read the entries for the best known political figures in both parties and note the obvious bias. Try the same experiment with any social issue and the impression you will leave with will never be a neutral point of view. To achieve this outcome, the author can’t stick to the facts, but often they have to embellish the facts or manufacture facts.

  • http://eagle2team.com/ Guest

    Over 90% of the time, Wikipedia’s info is right on the money. Sometimes it can be manipulated but very seldom is it outright wrong. Some of the editor’s have had God-like attitudes but again, a vast majority of the time, what you read in Wikipedia is correct. Never have just one source of information but Wikipedia can always be one of your sources.

  • Guest

    I find Wikipedia to be extremely accurate and up to date, especially in the scientific field.

    In many cases pertinent scientific discoveries are added within days of being published under peer review.

    Of course it is not perfect, and once it strays into more subjective fields it becomes a challenge. Occassionally I am surprised to find stub pages for what I would consider very “knowable” topics.

    Grammatical and spelling errors are commonplace, as are poor structure.

    Another issue is vandalism, but I am amazed at how quickly it is cleaned. I recently noticed a piece of vandalism in an article I was reading, so went to edit it out, but by the time I had clicked through to the edit page, someone else had already fixed it.

    There are always going to be people with fringe theories who think they deserve greater coverage. These fringe theories are often noted, along with the reasons why they don’t hold up, and that is one of Wikipedias strengths.

    Harping on about Galileo being locked up is a rather trite argument. Galileo lived in an age where the church was the gatekeeper to knowledge. We should be thankful, that to a large extent, the keys have now been handed over to Wikipedia.

    • http://archermusic.synthasite.com/ Jerald Franklin Archer

      “Galileo lived in an age where the church was the gatekeeper to knowledge. We should be thankful, that to a large extent, the keys have now been handed over to Wikipedia.”

      This statement says it all about how useful Wikipedia is in forming and fostering complete misunderstandings of real history itself. The Church does not hold the any “keys” to knowledge, but rather protects knowledge, real knowledge, from error of personal opinions. The Church holds keys of a different nature that is beyond most human understanding and opinions. The keys are an analogy. Judging by the contents of many articles (and too many editors) Wiki sites do more harm than good. One should never be thankful for errors committed in the name of secular opinions. Fostering error as truth is only one of the reasons that the world is in such a terrible state as it is today.

  • http://www.climatechangemagneticenergy.com global warming

    The problem with this Wiki, is they started it and when you have a few prejudice people on their site, Not allowing one to place a article because they don’t find you fall into the normal. They dis allow one to publish.
    We have a research to stop global warming and just because some one from Wiki calls them self a knowledgeable person, and think your off your tree. This doesn’t mean they should cut you off.
    Have you heard the story about the man crying wolf. They didn’t believe him until it was to late. Where in this case we are saying this will happen, and they are cutting off the voice that speaks up! When their “P” brain is obviously lacking.
    Just imagine who will not be able to recover from this when it happens? Don’t say you were not for warned.

  • Rob.B

    I know of an article with one of my images incorrectly attributed to someone else under creative commons, I know whot the error happened but no-one seems to want to fix-it. This is the issue really, if you spot and can prove an error nobody cares.


  • http://www.harleytourism.com/uzbekistan-visa/uzbekistan-visa.shtml harleytourism

    Fine article but I want to make few additions. If reduced numbers of editors are with commitment then no harm bit I do have experienced that Editor at least Editing uzbekistan and tashkent Pages is highly Biased and promoting his buddy’s web site some time dead Web Sites. He/She is not Interested in new contents and only want to safeguard his monopoly to promote some web sites www.harleytourism.com has unique Information about Tashkent tarnsport system, Uzbekistan Food, and Uzbekistan Bazaars but it was all deleted.

  • http://www.viralseller.com Noo Yawka

    Fewer editors but more money. I guess that’s good in a business way, but I have no idea how the money will be spread around. What are plans for use of this new pot of money? Will it all go into the pockets of the people in the central office? Is there independent oversight of the money? Is any of the money used for non-wikipedia purposes?

    This interview is too short and too easy. A good interviewer makes the subject squirm — or at least reveal something new. This is a 100% softball interview.

  • Guest

    Not alway right but even the “legit” ones are not always right. The thing is that wikepedia is easy to put in your two cents and hopefully to get it right.

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