Monday, January 05, 2009

What if you built a democracy and nobody came?

According to a study by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:

over 50% of all the edits [to Wikipedia] are done by just .7% of the users—524 people. And in fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits.

Of course, this could all be a non-issue, but how may people contributed to the last edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? Was it more or less than 524? Or 1400? Is it essential to the value of Wikipedia to have a large number of active contributors? Or is it enough that potentially anyone could contribute to Wikipedia?

(Via Sullivan)


Robin said...

More than a nitpick: This is total number of edits, and many hard-core Wikipedia users keep tabs on the site w/ the aid of bots that do lots of auto-linking and auto-formatting for them. And in doing so, they rack up thousands and thousands of "edits."

Many of these edits are tiny -- a few characters.

Check out Aaron Swartz's analysis of actual volume of characters for a fairer view:

It's def true that the core editor community @ Wikipedia is very small. But that in no way contradicts the fact that the overall contributor base is very large (and it comes from unexpected corners).

Gavin said...

You are correct that Swartz makes a persuasive argument that Wales methodology is flawed. It's not entirely clear however, that the mass of contributions to Wikipedia come "from unexpected corners," unless one defines "unexpected corners" to mean everyone except for the gang of 500. Swartz's most interesting point seems to be that the mass of Wikipedia contributors seems to be unregistered users, so we don't have any idea at all who they are.

On some level, thus, Wikipedia still exists at the level of the potential (maybe everyone is contributing, professionals and lay experts, and maybe the group of contributors is skewed somehow), but as I tried to imply in my first post, this may not be a problem. Demanding that contributors register seems much more Britannica than wiki.

I'd love to know if contributions are coming from everywhere, or if particular contributions tend to come from particular places, but this doesn't seem exactly like the kind of question Wikipedia was designed to answer. (Maybe we should ask Google. It seems much more up their alley.)