With nearly 4 million articles in English, Wikipedia can lay claim to being one of the largest repositories of information on the Internet—but it may also run into a problem in the future: Who will be responsible for updating and fact checking existing articles, and who is going to write new ones?
Wikipedia's English site has been slowly losing volunteer editors for years, and although there have been recent efforts to slow the decline, such as making the editing template more user-friendly, there hasn't yet been a turnaround, according to executives with the organization.
"The decline in the number of active editors—those who make more than five edits in a single month—has slowed over the past year. It hasn't completely stopped and it hasn't reversed itself," says Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Last year, founder Jimmy Wales told the Associated Press that Wikipedia wasn't "replenishing [its] ranks ... it is not a crisis, but I consider it to be important."
Gardner says there are approximately 80,000 active editors of the site, but that number has been slowly dropping over the past few years. Wales attributes at least part of the decline to an increase in rules and a fairly steep learning curve for new editors. Of the several hundred editors in attendance at Wales' "State of Wikipedia" speech Thursday, only three said they had started contributing to the site this year.
"The procedures can be off-putting to newcomers," he said. "A lot of [the framework rules] are there for a reason, but a lot of it is hard and complicated for no apparent reason."
Wales reiterated the importance of simplfying the editing process and finding new editors—and not just ones that can understand code. He relayed the story of his father, who is a 1960s car buff, trying—and failing—to edit a Wikipedia page.
"Like almost everyone else on the planet, he clicks 'edit' and he sees all this markup language and thinks 'I don't know what to do and I'm afraid I'll mess something else,'" Wales said. "We need to take that account and try to attract people who are geeks, but not computer geeks. They know something and want to share their knowledge, but they're not doing it now."