MIT report: Wikipedia has entered perpetual ‘decline phase’
According to a recent MIT study, the volunteer editorial staff at Wikipedia has withered by more than a third since 2007, and its ranks are still declining.
“I categorize from 2007 until now as the decline phase of Wikipedia,” Aaron Halfaker, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who has published extensively on the decline, told the Technology Review. Since new protocols to fight vandalism were initiated in 2007, the proportion of deletions to the site that were made by automated tools rather than actual editors grew exponentially.
At the same time, volunteer editors increasingly found themselves hamstrung by rules that became too arcane to police. In his study, Halfaker wrote that Wikipedia should change its motto from “[t]he encyclopedia that anyone can edit” to “[t]he encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semi-automated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.”
Compounding these problems is Wikipedia’s decision to move from “wikitext,” the markup language to the site, to a visual editor that anyone familiar with a word processor can use. This is an effort to bring in what Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, calls the “eager cub reporters.”
“The Wikipedians remind me of the crusty old desk guy who knows the style guide backwards,” she told Technology Review. “But where are the eager cub reporters? You don’t get the crusty old desk guy out at three in the morning to cover a fire. That’s for the new guy, who’s got a lot of energy and potential. At Wikipedia we don’t have a sufficient influx of cub reporters.”
This quasi-unilateral decision to move to the visual editor angered many volunteer editors who believe that lowering the barrier to participation in the community will hurt, rather than help, Wikipedia.
As one editor contacted by Raw Story said, “it’s like they keep lowering the bar, then asking us to limbo. At a certain point, you’re tripping over the stick instead of walking under it.”
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