Last Thoughts: Disappearing Editors & Unwelcome Newcomers

Based on a Mar. 16th lecture by Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin

A late 2009 article in the Guardian, Wikipedia falling victim to a war of words, claims that Wikipedia is losing volunteers, with unhappy editors deserting for a number of reasons: an increasingly cumbersome editing process; squabbling with established editors; and claims of all-controlling power cliques.

Wikipedia Cartoon


A more recent 2014 piece echoes some of those concerns noting that active editors dropped by a third since the 50,000 plus number of 2007.

An article in January of 2015, Wikipedia votes to ban some editors from gender-related articles, while primarily addressing a specific controversy (GamerGate), notes that “byzantine internal processes of Wikipedia are incomprehensible” to many contributors and that an “unwelcoming atmosphere for new editors has long been blamed for an overwhelmingly masculine make-up”. It notes that just one in ten editors are believed to be female and quotes from Wikipedia’s own article on systemic bias which suggests that the “gender gap has a detrimental effect on content coverage”.
An October 2013 feature, The Decline of Wikipedia, in the MIT Technology Review, provides a detailed critique of the problems besetting the encyclopedia. As others have, the author notes the decline in the volunteer workforce, the lack of diversity in Wikipedia’s predominately male makeup, the abrasive atmosphere, and the increase in



bureaucratic processes and rules – intended to combat bad editing and vandalism – which has deterred newcomers. A referenced study reinforces the notion of bureaucracy – including increased manual and automated deletion of newcomer contributions – as primary culprit. The author does allow considerable space to the viewpoints of a Wikipedia executive – who talks about what is being done to make editing easier and the environment more welcoming – and an active administrator. However the word “labyrinthine” is used in relation to Wikipedia’s rules and guidelines – the core Neutral Point Of View (NPOV) policy is noted as now being almost 5,000 words long – and a top administrator, an Irishman, states that “policy creep” is the real issue.