Last week, I wrote about the troubles at Google Knol. Coincidentally, there has been an abundance of coverage relating to the apparent plateau of entries in Wikipedia. The blog Augmented Social Cognition has done a two-part series (link to Part 1, link to Part 2) on the topic, and CNET, the Economist, and the Guardian have weighed in.
To me, the most interesting story is the one in the Guardian, which tells of Augmented Social Cognition group (the same group running the aforementioned blog) and their analysis of a complete download of Wikipedia. They found that an elite editor’s chance of having an edit reverted (undone) was 1%, while an infrequent editor’s chances of a change being reverted had gone from 5% to 15% between 2003 and 2008. For editors that make one change per month, their chances of having their edits reverted are now upward of 25%.
But, as is so often the case with data, the real question isn’t the observation but the interpretation.
What does it mean?
For the Augmented Social Cognition group, the data seem to point to a resource constraint. Wikipedia is huge, and concentrating power in a smaller set of editors means there’s now a clear constraint on growth. This might explain the plateau.
Others accuse Wikipedia of exhibiting an elitist stripe in the cadre of editors at the core of the online reference. The apparent intolerance for green-horn editors and furtive fixers has some concerned their exclusionary approach will have a chilling effect on prospective new editors, choking off new blood when it’s needed most.
For others, the plateau means that Wikipedia is approaching the limit of its growth — having covered the obvious items, it’s now dropping some things and is slower to add new items.
Yet others feel that the slowdown is a sign of Wikipedia taking its search for quality over quantity seriously.
Ultimately, it’s probably a mix of all these factors. Wikipedia is well beyond exploring the scope of a large reference work, with 8 terabytes of information in it (that’s 1,200 DVDs of data). Its editors have to be more careful because their work is more prominent and scrutinized than ever, and they are probably a bit jaded by now. It would be natural for the editors to be forming an insular community of experience, as well, which from the outside might look elitist. Accusations about a lack of quality have probably made them more diligent, too.
As an experiment in how quickly, well, and efficiently a major reference work can be assembled, Wikipedia has set a new standard.
It’s not perfect, it may be too big, and it may no longer be a populist medium.
But really, after 8 years of learning how to do something new, what did you expect? Given the alternatives, isn’t this actually a sign of sanity and health?
(Thanks, DC, for the inspiration and links.)