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Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages

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Despite being the fifth-most popular Web site in the world, Wikipedia, which receives about 325 million visitors each month, is losing unprecedented numbers of its volunteers, who write, edit, and police its content. In the first three months of 2009, Wikipedia lost more than 49,000 editors, compared to a net loss of 4,900 during the same period in 2008. The exodus of editors has raised questions about the eight-year-old online encyclopedia's ability to continue expanding its breath and improving its accuracy.

Executives at the Wikimedia Foundation, which funds and oversees the nonprofit encyclopedia, acknowledge the decline in editors, but believe that it is still possible to build a useful encyclopedia with a smaller pool of contributors. "We need sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done," says the foundation's executive director Sue Gardner. "But the purpose of the project is not participation."

Wikipedia is still extremely popular among Web users, with visitors increasing by 20 percent over 12 months ending in September, according to comScore Media Metrix. A major reason behind the decline in editors may be that many topics have already been written about, and another may be the stringent rules that Wikipedia has been adopting to reduce infighting among contributors about articles on controversial subjects or individuals.

Wikipedia's struggles call into question the validity of crowdsourcing principles. "People generally have this idea that the wisdom of crowds is a pixie dust that you sprinkle on a system and magical things happen," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Aniket Kittur. "Yet the more people you throw at a problem, the more difficulty you are going to have with coordinating those people. It's too many cooks in the kitchen."

From The Wall Street Journal
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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