Is Wikipedia dying? Thoughts from an admin and former contributor

Jimbo WalesWikipedia founder Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales recently bemoaned the current state of the site — specifically, he said that the number of contributors is decreasing at a rapid rate. According to an Associated Press article, Wales stated at the most recent Wikipedia conference in Haifa, Israel, “We are not replenishing our ranks. It is not a crisis, but I consider it to be important.”

Wales cited Wikipedia’s Byzantine editorial guidelines and the site’s demographic challenges — the core group of geeky men in the 20s apparently discover women eventually — as the main reasons for the attrition.

To be honest, I can’t even remember the reason why I stopped actively contributing to the project. But there was a time when my involvement with Wikipedia bordered on obsession. I made my first edit just more than six years ago, and have racked up more than 10,000 article edits — large and small — since then. A number of articles I either created or wholly rewrote were given “Good Article” or “Featured Article” status, a badge of honor on the site. I also contributed a small number of pictures for articles. But the “culmination” of my Wiki career came in November 2006, when I was granted Administrator rights by a vote of 64-0. At the time, it seemed like a really huge deal.

But just one year later, my activity dropped off a cliff. By my rough estimation, I made fewer than 30 edits for all of 2008, and kept up the same pace in 2009 and 2010. I have five edits so far in 2011, including one I made today to my own talk page. I still use the site quite often for research and reference, but I don’t really contribute anymore. Why?

I certainly can’t blame women. I had already been married for a few years before getting involved on the site. And my son wasn’t born until last year, long after I had lost interest.

I guess if I had to sum up the reasons I lost interest in contributing to Wikipedia they would include:

Ace Frehley
Kiss album or not? Let's fight about it!
  • I decided if I was going to waste hours of my time writing stuff on the internet, I’d much rather do it for my own site. That way I am guaranteed full editorial control, and can write in any style I want.
  • The massive tide of bored school children vandalizing articles became too much to deal with. You could make a full-time job just out of combating idiotic edits like “brendan says hi and he likes penis.”
  • I found myself actually getting involved in online fights over the dumbest shit imaginable. I had a heated argument with someone over whether or not the four solo albums released in 1978 by the members of Kiss should count as Kiss records. Ridiculous.
  • As with any collective — especially online — there was way too much of a hive mind and way too many cliques. While I did learn some valuable lessons in cooperating with people you’ve never even met (what we call Virtual Teams in the corporate world), mostly I found it a chore to have to negotiate or reason with a lot of the power-hungry types there.
  • I became overwhelmed with the task of keeping the many articles on my watchlist (ones that I had a particular interest in and could flag) clean. I’m not even talking about vandalism, but rather well-meaning (albeit incompetent) editors who could barely string together a coherent sentence.
  • I got tired of dealing with Wikipedia’s convoluted and hyper-reactive policies on images. I get that they want to protect themselves from copyright lawsuits, but I shouldn’t have to fill out a damn form just to add an album cover image to an article about the frigging album. I got tired of logging onto the site, only to be met with a ton of notices about another dozen or so perfectly reasonable images being deleted.
  • It takes an insane amount of focus (or maybe just insanity in general) to remain a dedicated admin. I shudder to think about the hours and hours I spent trying to keep articles about topics I wasn’t even interested in neutral and sourced, in the face of zealous fanboys.
  • More than anything else, I just got bored with Wikipedia and found other ways to spend my time.

Look, I know that Wikipedia takes a lot of flak — and rightly so in many cases — but overall I enjoyed my time as an active contributor there. I ended up learning a great deal of information about some really interesting topics, and sharpened my research and writing skills in the process.

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