Wikipedia Loses Thousands Of Contributors, Study Claims

A war of words has broken out after a study claimed that Wikipedia is being deserted by thousands of volunteer editors, but co-founder Jimmy Wales is contesting the accuracy of the report.

The study (PDF file) was conducted by Felipe Ortega at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. It analysed the editing history of more than three million active Wikipedia contributors in ten different languages.

It found that Wikipedia had lost 49,000 of its contributors in the first three months of 2009, an alarming development considering that in the same period of 2008, the online encyclopaedia lost only 4,900 people.

Wikipedia is currently the fifth most popular website in the world and it is said to receive about 325 million visits per month. But the site is highly dependent upon its editors to write, edit and maintain the articles on its website. This ability to allow anyone to edit articles has been abused in the past, leading to editing scandals such as US Senator Edward Kennedy being declared dead before he died; and last week the page dedicated to the French footballer Thierry Henry was locked after his handball during the World Cup play-off match with Ireland. Furious Irish fans left obscenities on the site.

Ortega is suggesting that editors and contributors are becoming disenchanted with the process of adding to the site, because of the increased bureaucracy and rules designed to help prevent these problems.

“Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment,” Ortega, told the Wall Street Journal. “Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again.”

Ortega warned that unless this negative trend is checked, the project “could vanish quickly.”

However Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales has dismissed Ortega’s study, saying that new editors are replacing existing editors at nearly the same pace.

“Our internal numbers don’t confirm all the claims made,” Wales told the Daily Telegraph. “We do agree that the number of editors has stabilised, as one would expect, since we’re already the fifth most popular website on the internet…[however] our own data shows that the number of active editors across all projects is stable – i.e. the new editors are replaced at about the same pace as existing editors are leaving.”

The newspaper pointed out that according to Wikipedia’s statistics, there were 39,211 Wikipedians (the people who write and edit pages on the site) in September 2009 who contributed more than five times to the English-language version of the site during that month. This is compared to 40,793 Wikipedians who contributed the same amount to the English Wikipedia in September 2008 – which is a year on year decline of 1,585.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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