You don’t get Wikipedia, so stop trying

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For years, I’ve been reading that Wikipedia is dying. (Of course, on the internet, anything successful attracts an “is dying” movement.)

Today, there’s a Wall Street Journal article that does a half-way decent job of glancing at the history of the site, but does so under a headline that suggests “volunteers are abandoning the site” and implying, at least by implication, that Wikipedia is declining. The article, however, points out that usage of Wikipedia is actually increasing.

I soon will be writing quite a bit on the topic of wiki development and culture, so I won’t go into the topic deeply in this post, but I can say with some authority and experience: Wikipedia is at a stage where casual volunteers should abandon it. Again, I don’t have time now to explain what I mean, other than to say, there is a user-to-contributor ratio on an open wiki project like Wikipedia (and SmallBusiness.com, the wiki where I serve as creator and head-helper), that is optimal for maximum productivity. Too few volunteers or too many can create challenges that detract from the overall potential and quality of the wiki. The “Baby Bear (just right)” number of volunteers is one of the secrets to wiki development success that only a few projects have cracked. Again, I’ll be writing on that topic more in-depth later.

If you understand wiki development, you would understand that Wikipedia needs fewer, more dedicated, volunteers, at this point — not more drive-by volunteers like it may have needed in the past. It needs volunteers who can add accuracy to the content that’s there. It needs volunteers who can improve the usability, taxonomy and navigation of the site. It needs volunteers who can enable it to raise the funds necessary to sustain the content that’s there already.

But the volume of volunteers is not important for Wikipedia, at this point.

Frankly, I’d prefer to see some of those volunteers take what they’ve learned working of Wikipedia — both what they like, and what they don’t — and go create their own wikis, or volunteer on some more tightly-focused wiki projects. (And yes, email me if you’d like to bring some of that Wikipedia volunteer knowledge over to helping build SmallBusiness.com.)

  • lauracreekmore

    There's a power-law relationship going on there, and with any successful community, I think. Individual communities may settle in at slightly different points, but most communities [and I would argue that Wikipedia and other successful group wikis are at root communities] require a few people doing a whole lot, and a few more people doing a little, and a lot of people enjoying the fruits of their labor.

  • Yea, Laura. What you said.

  • There's a power-law relationship going on there, and with any successful community, I think. Individual communities may settle in at slightly different points, but most communities [and I would argue that Wikipedia and other successful group wikis are at root communities] require a few people doing a whole lot, and a few more people doing a little, and a lot of people enjoying the fruits of their labor.

  • Yea, Laura. What you said.