It appears that the number of people interested in helping monitor “the sum of all human knowledge” is on a sharp decline.
According to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Spanish researcher Felipe Ortega has been studying the number of volunteers that assist in keeping Wikipedia up and running. He found that in the first three months of 2009, over 49,000 editors stopped working on the site, a significant jump from the 4,900 who stopped working on the site in the same time period in 2008.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind the site, confirms the steep decline in editors, executives at the company don’t see this necessarily as a bad thing. ”We need sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done,” says Sue Gardner, executive director of the foundation. “But the purpose of the project is not participation.”
While traffic to Wikipedia has grown around 20 percent over the past 12 months, the feeling is that the loss of editors is over the fact that the site has now passed over 3 million entries in the English language version; is there really that much more to write? While there is constant updating to be done on some entries, there are many more that you can consider completed because of the limited scope of the entry.
There is also some speculation that some of the departures may be over some of the controversies that have swarmed around the site: From many arguments arising over how to edit the entries of controversial figures and subjects, to an ever increasing number of rules on style of entries.
Wikimedia feels it can maintain the site with a smaller pool of editors, but, personally, I think the idea that people are departing because their area of interest has been throughly covered sounds about right. How much editing really needs to be done on the entry for author Jane Austen on an ongoing basis?