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Wikipedia On Staying Relevant To A Diverse World

How Many Editors Does it Take to Stay Accurate?

We recently reported on the notion that Wikipedia losing editors could lead to a decline in accuracy. Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, tells WebProNews growth in editing has slowed, but the number of editors is just flat, and not declining.

The Wikimedia Foundation raised $3 million in just ten days right in the middle of the recession. This is one reason why Gardner was named the Ultimate Game Changer for media by the Huffington Post. That publication says Gardner changed the game by “taking the people’s online encyclopedia to the next level.” Gardner answered a few questions for us, and the following is the product of that Q&A.

WebProNews: Can you tell us a little about how the Wikimedia Foundation was able to raise $3 million in just ten days, to cover its operating budget for 2009?

Sue Gardner: Sure. The Wikimedia Foundation’s been running an annual fundraising campaign since 2005 and every year, donations have increased. Last year, Jimmy [Wales – co-founder of Wikipedia] wrote a really lovely letter asking for people to help us, which we published on December 23. We immediately had a huge spike in donations, with more than 50,000 coming in over the next eight days — pushing us past our goal for the year, and enabling us to end the campaign early.

It was fantastic, and really exceeded our expectations. Last winter the global economic outlook was really bad – Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy, AIG was getting bailed out, and housing prices were collapsing. For us to push past our goal in that really difficult and uncertain economy was thrilling.

WPN: How has this compared to previous years? Do you expect a similar situation in 2010?

SG: Every year, the number of people donating to the Wikimedia Foundation has increased, and the total dollar amount has increased too. In 2005-06, we brought in about 1.5 million dollars. In 2006-07, we brought in about 2.7 million. In 2007-08, we brought in 5.1 million, and last year we brought in 7.4 million. This year, we plan to raise a total of 10.6 million. We think that’s realistic.

WPN: A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the number of editors for Wikipedia is dropping drastically. What do you attribute this to?

SG: Well first, and importantly, the data don’t actually show that the number of editors is dropping dramatically. What the data show are that the growth of editing on Wikipedia, which had been increasing exponentially, has slowed. Wikipedia’s readership continues to grow, the number of articles continues to grow, and the growth in number of active editors started to slow down several years ago. The number of active editors, which we define as people who make five or more edits in a given month, is now pretty flat: it is neither growing nor shrinking. So, upshot: I think quite a bit of the media coverage has been overly alarmist.

Having said that, it is true that the number of active editors is flat, and that concerns me. Nobody knows what number of active editors is necessary for Wikipedia to stay current and well-maintained. We do know that the easy work is now more-or-less complete: there are good, rich articles on most obvious topics like Barack Obama and the human brain and the House of Commons and COBOL. So it may be that a smaller number of editors is all that is required for the work that remains to us now, which is more related to polishing and updating and improving existing articles, rather than generating lots of new ones. We don’t know. Nobody knows, because nothing like Wikipedia has ever existed before.

About the Author:
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Twitter: @CCrum237

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