Wikipedia: Losing editors, suffering PR blows – all while asking for money.

The news that Wikipedia and Wikimedia is losing editors has been frequently in the news. Stats, graphs, news stories have saturated the media recently, to the extent that one would think that the Wiki-sky is falling. Is it true that even wiki-editors know when to jump a sinking Wiki- ship!

Actually, no. It is fine. But let’s look at what is being reported, what Wikimedia is saying about it, and the fine line that lies between the two.

First, inside the numbers
As reported by many news services, Wikimedia has lost thousands of editors. The are contrasting reports, but the most reliable state that around 49,000 editors have left recently.

Estimated 49,000 editors have left Wikipedia
[via Business Insider ‘Chart of the Day’
By most accounts, the reason for the dramatic drop-off is three-fold:

1) The most popular topics have been written already.
2) Wikipedia has stringent rules for the editing process and it is hard for new editors to ingratiate themselves into the system.
3) There appears to be an ‘old guard’ who are very protective of their community and site.

In response to the recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider, Wikipedia posted a counter blog post recently:

“The number of people reading Wikipedia continues to grow.  In October, we had 344 million unique visitors from around the world, according to comScore Media Metrix, up 6% from September.  Wikipedia is the fifth most popular web property in the world.
The number of articles in Wikipedia keeps growing.  There are about 14.4 million articles in Wikipedia, with thousands of new ones added every day.
The number of people writing Wikipedia peaked about two and a half years ago, declined slightly for a brief period, and has remained stable since then.  Every month, some people stop writing, and every month, they are replaced by new people.”

Continuing, the blog refutes each of the concerns raised by the supposed drop in editors. Wikipedia contends that their editor numbers and using their definition of ‘editor’, after a drop in 2007 have remained stable:

“In our own analytics, we choose to define editors as people who have made at least 5 edits. By our narrower definition, just under a million people can be counted as editors across all languages combined… On the English Wikipedia, the peak number of active editors (5 edits per month) was 54,510 in March 2007. After a more significant decline by about 25%, it has been stable over the last year at a level of approximately 40,000.

Wikipedia offers that they are improving their editor interface to make it easier to use and become part of the Wikipedia process:

Our usability initiative is making it easier to contribute to Wikipedia and its sister projects by improving the underlying open source technology. Removing barriers is key to recruiting new editors.
Our outreach initiative is developing a comprehensive set of training and outreach materials that will help us to recruit new volunteer editors.
Our strategic planning initiative is a unique community-driven process to identify how we can maximize our impact. One of its task forces is specifically studying community health.”

Further, they are attempting to ease the ‘newbie’ process so that new editors feel welcomed to join:

“The Wikimedia volunteer community is also engaged in important discussions and experiments. A community-initiated project in the English Wikipedia, for example, tried to assess the typical experience of new Wikipedia editors when trying to contribute useful content. This newbie treatment study is directly informing community discussions about community processes. Similar experiments and large strategic discussions are happening in other languages.”

For the short-term, Wikipedia is going to be fine. In the long-term they would do well to adhere to the proposals that they outline in their blog. If/when they are successful in encouraging new editors and easing their integration into the Wiki community, they will have a source of posts that will fuel them for years to come and that would essentially quell and concerns that were raised by the [possible, debatable] loss of editors; new editors, perhaps younger, will find new topics on which to write… perhaps things that the ‘old guard’ was unfamiliar…?

Can haz donations?
Can haz donashuns?

I believe, however that the story about the Wikipedia editors and the status of Wikipedia on a whole does not end here with the issue, and issue rebuttal.

I find two interesting components to this story:

1) The timing of the news releases
2) The new initiatives calling community monetary contributions

It is very possible that these are entwined – that the timing of these stories was premised by the recent initiatives for money and vice-versa. I noticed that in none of the articles discussing the drop in editors, that the issue of fund raising was prompted. If you read the comments from the community on the Wikipedia page devoted to feedback about the proposed fundraising slogan and placement, you will find a vociferous backlash.

“The “Wikipedia Forever” fundraising ad (and associated variation on that theme[1]) appear to be widely rejected by the editing community, and the Foundation’s claim that readers find it appealing does not appear to be borne out by friends/family of editors. Yet the Foundation plans to go ahead with them,[2] and declares that “fundraiser sitenotices aren’t subject to community consensus””

Here are some samples from their pages which solicited user feedback on their various banners and slogan concepts, responses ran from comedic to harassing to constructive:

– “Personally I think it’s quite disappointing that the community’s input was not taken into consideration when developing these… err, “slogans”.”

– “There has been broad consensus against the campaign ever since it was introduced, but of course Rand Montoya did not listen to us.”

– “Page reads like the text of a PBS ‘pledge drive’ shill; embarrassing.”

– “I donated last year, and felt no negativity toward that campaign. This year’s banner is just unprofessional.”

Just a cursory look at the proposed banners [15 in all] and the responses to the selected one would indicate some credence to the comments and community; that Wikimedia did not listen to the community and place the one they felt was best.

The best I can say is that advertising is an art, art is subjective. Sometimes you have to go with what you think is best and right and “let the chips fall where they may”.

Some bad PR is probably the result. But there are two notes:

1) Wikipedia is continuing to test slogans and banners. The most recent one is here and changes from time to time.

Wikipedia is alternating slogan and message
Wikipedia is alternating slogan and message

2) There is a HIDE BUTTON!!! If you don’t like it, you can simply hide the ads from your future visits. So for all those who don’t like the ads they can simply turn them off with one click. Seems silly to me to leave a site that has given so much for free over a push of one button.

There is a hide button!!!
There is a hide button!!!

Final note:
I’ve donated, and will donate again as the mission and goals are in alignment with my values:

“To people and technology. Even though Wikipedia and its sister projects are one of the top five most-visited websites in the world, we employ fewer than 35 people; see our staff overview. Roughly half work on technology, a small team supports our public outreach and volunteer cultivation activities, and the remaining staff work in fundraising and administration. In addition, your support helps to pay for the technology infrastructure (servers and bandwidth) that keep Wikipedia running and growing.
Fundamentally, the Wikimedia Foundation exists to support and grow the enormous network of volunteers who write and edit Wikipedia and its sister projects — more than 100,000 people around the world.”

To donate go here.
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2 thoughts on “Wikipedia: Losing editors, suffering PR blows – all while asking for money.”

  1. Your article didn’t even touch on two of the three reasons listed.

    2) Wikipedia has stringent rules for the editing process and it is hard for new editors to ingratiate themselves into the system.

    New editors should not have to ingratiate themselves into anything. They are there to help and volunteer their time. If they integrate themselves – great! They are not there to be abused by the old guard that are not versed in the topic – which brings me to #3

    3) There appears to be an ‘old guard’ who are very protective of their community and site.

    Yes. There is. Wikipedia is a social networking website – as much as that fact is against their own policies, that is what they are. As a consequence of that if a new editor doesn’t prostrate themselves before the old-guard they are soon banned for disruptive editing – or they quit. Hence the large numbers of editors leaving.

    PS: At one point I swore I’d never donate to wiipedia, then I tried to donate one dollar to wikipedia as a “clue”. They won’t take less about 20. So they get nothing instead.

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