Since the beginning of this decade, Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has been the most popular source of information in the world. It contains more than 14 million entries in various languages. All of them were written by surfers and edited by close to a million active editors who volunteer in Wikipedia’s various languages.Over the last few years the number of entries in Wikipedia has increased, as has the number of writers and editors. However, a new study published in Spain indicates that the trend is changing and that the number of Wikipedia editors is no longer rising. According to the study, during the first three months of 2009 some 49,000 editors left the English-language Wikipedia, compared with 4,900 editors who quit during the corresponding period of 2008.
Editors are particularly important to the free encyclopedia, because they are the ones who ensure the information’s credibility, and prevent vandalism and distortions.
In an attempt to explain the extensive departures, some say that many surfers got tired and lost the initial excitement over contributing to an encyclopedia. Another explanation is that Wikipedia’s editorial policy has become more stringent, which is why many people left.
The Wikipedia Foundation, which backs the encyclopedia, contested the findings, saying that since the encyclopedia does not have official editors, one cannot say which surfers ought to be considered “editors” and when they “leave.” “Every month some people stop writing, and every month they are replaced by new people,” the foundation’s blog said.
According to the data presented in the blog, the number of Wikipedia’s readers and entries has increased. The number of active Wikipedia writers peaked in mid-2007, dropped slightly and has since stabilized. All told, today there are more than 870,000 people around the world who can be categorized as permanent writers or editors.
And what about the Hebrew Wikipedia? By Sunday, Wikipedia had 98,782 Hebrew entries. The number of entries in Hebrew almost doubled during the past three years. Three “bureaucrats” and more than 50 “system operators” are at the pinnacle of the Hebrew version, and have various authorities such as blocking (preventing the editing) of entries and blocking users. In recent years users occasionally criticized the policies of some of the people in a position of authority in the Hebrew version.
According to David Shay, the most active editor in the Hebrew Wikipedia, “new writers are joining all the time. It is very clear that people are discovering the possibility of writing in Wikipedia and are trying their hand at it. Some are greeted enthusiastically and some get a cold reception.”
According to Shay, the rejected writers are usually people who are trying to promote interests and are not matter-of-fact. “There are people who are out to take advantage of Wikipedia as a platform to publicize the organization they want to promote or to promote themselves. Our permanent writers do not like that at all. There are people whose writing standards are very low so their entries are amended, erased or heavily edited. I hope we did not reject good contributions to the Web site.”