Wikipedia or Wakipedia?

WikipediaOver the last few weeks there’s been a range of articles arguing that Wikipedia may be on the way out.

Excellent pieces in the New Scientist and The Guardian have highlighted research carried out by Ed Chi at the Palo Alto Research Center in California which warns that Wikipedia has become less welcoming to new contributors. This has led to a severe drop in the number of articles created – the website peaked in 2006 with 60,000 new articles per month, and since then this figure has declined by about a third.

Perhaps as a reflection of this, Wikipedia’s popularity is falling with recent figures showing that Facebook has overtaken it to become the fourth most visited website in the world – behind Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!

Looking further down the line, Chi goes on to argue that another side effect of the changes at Wikipedia is that the encyclopedia’s quality could be severely compromised in the long term.

I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia. As a result I’m genuinely concerned about what may be happening to one of the web’s most remarkable resources. So just what is wrong with the current system?

One major problem highlighted by Chi’s research is that a culture of super editors is evolving within Wikipedia. As a result it’s becoming harder for occasional editors to contribute to Wikipedia – and instead the system is now heavily weighted in favour of an elite core of editors.

As an example, the research showed that editors who make a single edit a month, have 25 per cent of their changes erased by other editors, a proportion that in 2003 was 10 per cent, forcing Chi to conclude: “This is evidence of growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content”.

Connected to this, Wikipedia’s stance on refusing to allow anyone with any affiliation to an organization to post any information about that organization creates a complex dilemma.

On the one hand it makes sense that Wikipedia strives to protect its impartiality. On the other hand it currently applies this rule too strictly. Rather than look at the issue on a case by case basis, Wikipedia’s rules state quite simply that a conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. So even if you do disclose a potential conflict before attempting to publish anything, you will be locked out.

Often an employee would be the most qualified person to post an article on an organization. By automatically shutting the door to this possibility however the best / most factually accurate content could be being cut out automatically for no reason. Of course there are potential issues to be dealt with if you allow this to happen, but surely Wikipedia could deal with these.

Having said this, what’s more concerning with this policy is the fact that it actively encourages astroturfing. If Wikipedia closes the door to people attempting to post information about themselves – even those who openly disclose this information before attempting to publish – then they encourage the idea that the only option is to pretend to be someone else. This is clearly a no win situation for everyone involved.

And so, Wikipedia finds itself in an odd situation. As social media opens up the web in new and exciting ways, this one-time trail-blazer in the world of user generated content is ironically becoming more of a closed society – something that is surely folly.

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  • Was it Ed Chi who created a software that can count most prolific editors of information on Wikipedia? The top three were: the British Labour Party, the CIA and the Vatican.
    Three of the most trustworthy organisations on the planet!

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    Looks like things aren’t going to improve in the coming months: