One More Reason to Make Fun of Wikipedia

wikipedia logoMaking fun of Wikipedia for being unreliable is soooo 2005. By now we're all savvy enough to realize that the online encyclopedia is entirely written by volunteers and allows anyone with an opinion to change its entries. It's great for providing a basic overview about noncontroversial topics. But for an in-depth analysis of, say, Obama's presidency, we don't need anyone to tell us -- or joke, for that matter -- that it's ever so slightly biased.

But the announcement this week from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gives us new reason to chuckle about some of the problems inherent in running a user-generated free encyclopedia site. Wales says the site is losing contributors. Is it wrong that I don't view this as a particularly shocking development?


Wales' explanation for the dwindling ranks makes perfect sense: In the past, Wikipedia's contributors more often than not have been "26-year-old geeky males," but now, 10 years after the launch, these geeks have gotten married and/or moved on to other projects. Moreover, by now the site already has entries for almost everything of importance; instead of writers, the site now needs more editors, which can be a pretty tedious job.

But Wales is leaving out one other obvious factor about why it's proving so difficult to replenish contributors. By now most knowledgeable people have caught on to a major disincentive to writing and editing to Wikipedia (and similar sites): no matter how factual or intelligent your contribution may be, it can and most likely will be edited by millions of people worldwide (many of which might not have such high standards with respect to facts and intelligence). In other words, contributing to a user-generated site is sometimes spinning your wheels -- it's a lot of effort for very little return.

The good news for us fans of Wikipedia is that the dwindling pool of contributors is not yet a crisis. Hopefully, the company will use this small setback as motivation to introduce new, more attractive features and incentives to the site.

Do you use Wikipedia? 


Image via throwthedamnthing/Flickr

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