Wikipedia were one of the earlier websites on the internet launching in 2001. Like other big sites, they saw rapid growth in user participation from 2001 till 2006 and then very suddenly, as the graph to the right shows, the number of new articles hit a peak and it has been declining steadily since.
That decline coincided with a change in the culture stemming from the increasing costs of running the website and the appointment of Florence Devouard as board chairman who introduced a more commercial outlook for the site, which although low-key clearly had profound impacts.
Anyone familiar with graphs will recognise that we have two phases of exponential change. The first, exponential growth, the second exponential decline. And clearly something “flipped” at Wikipedia around 2007 as it changed very dramatically and sharply from one to the other.
I was one of the people who edited Wikipedia around 2007 so here are some possible reasons:
- They had an article on everything – the most obvious answer is that there are only so many articles that fit in an encyclopaedia and once they are all written, the fun of “being the first” to create an article disappears.
- The focus on “quality” – it is (was) very easy to start an article on Wikipedia and great fun, however it was just tedious doing all the small minor edits and updates once they were written.
- Wikipedia couldn’t afford more articles so started restricting them – perhaps the top of Wikipedia suddenly realised they were running out of money and that if the size of the website kept growing, they would have to close. Perhaps there was a conscious decision to “put off” new work.
- The constant political edit wars – for any of us that edited the global warming articles, we know how ridiculous these politically motivated edit wars were. And I’ve no doubt that certain views were being pushed by the top of Wikipedia, so in effect any decent editor was simply giving cover through their quality work to hide the overt political nature of Wikipedia.
- Asking for money put off editors – that as soon as editors were told “it’s not free to edit Wikipedia”, they stopped giving their time and efforts for free.