Wikipedia blogging outside the Wiki Planet orbit

The main discussion platforms in the Wikimedia community can be pretty insular. Lots of people write about their (often negative) experiences with and views on Wikipedia, and only a handful are part of Wiki Blog Planet, post on the Village Pump or the mailing lists, or hang out on freenode IRC. So I like to browse the wider world of Wikipedia blogging. Lots of other people do this too, I know, because usernames I recognize often appear in comments sections. Here’s what I found this time.

  • Have You Ever Edited Wikipedia? – a thoughful post on notability by Terrance of The Republic of T. , explaining why he stopped contributing articles on victims of LGBT-related hate crimes.
  • The coming Wikipedia election. – an interesting take on the way Wikipedia is increasingly significant for U.S. state-level politics, by an Virginia political junkie (User:WaldoJ).
  • Is it safe to edit Wikipedia? – Kelly Martin’s Nonbovine Ruminations isn’t on the wiki blog aggregators any more, but she posted this a few weeks ago.
  • final group project: editing USF’s wikipedia page – University of San Francisco media studies professor David Silver is running a Wikipedia assignment, group editing of the USF article. To be more precise, he’s grading it. The comments on his blog post are heartwarming. See how the USF article has changed since the assignment started two weeks ago.

Also, for those who haven’t seen it, Robert Rohde (User:Dragons flight) has some vital, long-wanted editing frequency statistics for the English Wikipedia community. The long and short of it is that the size of the Wikipedia editing community peaked around March 2007. I’ve been playing around with the data, and there are lots of interesting things hiding in there.
The big research/data crunching questions I have now relate to what the life course of a Wikipedia editor looks like? Anecdotally, active Wikipedians have a typical lifespan of a few years; most of the early contributors have left, and many of the most active editors today joined around the time I did or later (that is, in the 2005-2007 boom). Do many or most editors follow a typical pattern in their editing rate over the course of their involvement (e.g., rapid rise that levels off, then gradually declines before fading away)? Can we expect (or are we experiencing) a generational die-off in the wake of the exponential expansion period? What would a histogram of recent edits sorted by when editors joined look like?

Tougher questions that probably can’t be answered directly even with really great statistical analysis: Does Wikipedia attract a different kind of editor than it used to? How much of the pool of potential editors has been used up? Are there really significant numbers of potential editors who would contribute if usability issues were addressed?

186 thoughts on “Wikipedia blogging outside the Wiki Planet orbit”

  1. "Anecdotally, active Wikipedians have a typical lifespan of a few years; most of the early contributors have left, and many of the most active editors today joined around the time I did or later (that is, in the 2005-2007 boom)."

    Man, no wonder sometimes I feel like an outsider at Wikipedia when I ought to feel right at home: I've stayed too long at this party. I joined in October 2002, & I'm trying hard to think of one editor who was active at the time yet still today makes more than the occasional edit.

    And yes, I threw a tantrum a few months back & took a WikiBreak. I'm back. I couldn't stay away, although I'm not entirely happy with myself about it.


  2. Geoff, I’m glad you’re back. I didn’t know that you were gone on WikiBreak until you blogged about coming back, but I had noticed your lack of blogging, and missed it.

    Wikipedia doesn’t do much for (and is more actively hostile on-wiki than ever to) developing a sense of community, beyond activities directly related to creating and maintaining content. It makes it tough to sustain a relationship to the project over a long period, especially considering how much the project has changed since 2002. It getting rid of so much of the silly, community-building pieces of Wikipedia (BJAODN, lots of silly games, interesting but unusual lists, etc.) has hurt the community (and in turn, the content produced), but it’s tough to deal rationally on a wiki with a problem so diffuse and slow-acting. The people who pushed to get rid of all that stuff and make the culture of Wikipedia more serious and content-focused were acting in what they thought was the project’s best interest (and maybe they were).

    When I say “anecdotally”, what I really mean is “according to MeatballWiki”. If you haven’t seen it, you might find this interesting:

  3. Sage, I’m delighted to see that you brought this study of “20+ edits-per-month” editors. It confirms my suspicions that the Essjay scandal (February/March 2007) was a watershed moment in establishing to the Wikipedia community and to the wider world that the co-founder of Wikipedia can’t even be trusted to make leadership decisions that respect the integrity of the encyclopedia project. It (literally) has been all downhill from there.

  4. I suspect a lot of us get the Google Alerts on “Wikipedia.” Someone on the Planets should be doing a regular survey of non-Planet mentions of Wikipedia in blogs. I find this a good way to get a feel for what normal people actually think of Wikipedia.

  5. hey sage – thanks for blogging about my students’ projects (and my grading of those projects!).

    i was and am extremely excited about the project i assigned my students and early feedback from them about what they learned and how they collaborated has been very positive. i hope to write up some observations about the project later this month.

    thanks again for the mention.

  6. Gregory Kohs, thanks, that’s an interesting connection that I’m embarrassed not to have noticed. I don’t think the Essjay controversy was the major cause of the changing dynamics of Wikipedia growth, since even well before that event the growth rate was slowing and article creation rate had peaked six months before. But it’s worth considering as an additional factor. The “1+ edits per month” group also peaked in March 2007, for both anons and registered users.

    I’m inclined think that, rather than causing a decline, the Essjay controversy brought a temporary boost in editing just as Wikipedia was reaching the end of its rapid growth phase. But I’m not willing to discount your interpretation completely.

    It’s too soon to tell, but it looks like the size of the editing community has stabilized and isn’t declining (or at least, not much) any more.

  7. Quite frankly, the most consistently reliable report on Wikipedia commentary in blogs can be found in Wikipedia Review’s “Wikipedia in Blogland” forum.

  8. This is a fascinating post, particularly the statistics showing a slight decline as of March 2007. I don’t agree with Greg that it was the Essjay event that led to the turn around, but I do not, rather curiously, that March 2007 marks when both Brad and I left. Not that our departure was the cause of the decline. I am not that immodest. But in retrospect it was a response to unresolved issues boiling beneath the surface.

  9. Kelly, thanks much for the tip.

    Danny, another interesting connection, for sure. From my own perspective, I would agree that 2007 was the period when the the mood of the community shifted and became as contentious as I’ve yet seen it, particularly in terms of an adversarial relationship to the WMF and its leadership. Among long-time editors, much of that was related to the “unresolved issues boiling beneath the surface”.

    That might help explain my personal observation of a new crop of de facto community leaders on English Wikipedia; newer heavily-involved editors had less of an emotional stake in those issues, and so were not driven away by the discord.

    But given the small scale of the metapedian community compared to the overall editor pool, I think a good explanation of the overal trend has to rely on causes that would affect the editing experience of people who only make handful of edits a month and rarely venture outside of article space. In your view, how do the constellation of issues that you allude to relate to the experience of casual editors?

  10. I should just like to add, as someone who became active in WP English during that 2005 – 2007 period, that I’ve noticed a distinct drop off in article editing activity, as well.

    Shawn in Montreal

  11. Hey! Interesting post. I worked with the USF assignment… we have so much to learn, both on the classroom & the wikipedia side, about how to do really good classroom assignments. Work to be done, I guess.

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