What can Wikipedia do to encourage new contributors?

I find it troubling that Wikipedia is losing contributors. Despite it’s flaws, Wikipedia and the overarching ideals it was built on, still represent the world’s greatest open educational resource. It’s a place built on the Web 2.0 ideals of transparency and collectivism, and I think of the people who contribute to Wikipedia as people who love learning and knowledge.

I wonder why it is losing contributors? Maybe after 10 years, the shiny factor is wearing off as it becomes one of those things in our life that kind of fades into the background. It’s always there, now serving a primarily utilitarian role in our lives. Like power or plumbing, we don’t notice it all the time because it is just there, and we have come to expect that it will always be there.

Maybe there are less contributors because, after 10 years and 3.7 million articles, there isn’t as much to actually edit or contribute these days. Sure, there is a lot of new information being generated every day in the world, but maybe the knowledge base has been pretty well built and now all that needs to be done is gardening. The low hanging knowledge fruit has been picked and we are now getting into topics and details that only those who are highly knowledgeable in those areas could contribute something new to?

Or, perhaps as the article suggest, it is difficult to edit or add an article to Wikipedia? Sure, in theory anyone can add or edit an article, but in reality it does take a bit of technical know-how to edit a Wikipedia article correctly. And then there are the protocols and procedures that Wikipedia has put in place that need to be followed. Unless you have done a bit of research into how to actually author or edit a Wikipedia article, it seems to me that there might be a barrier there for new users to figure out how to do it right.

I could be wrong with that last bit, which is why I’d be interested to hear your experiences with editing Wikipedia. Do you do it? Do you find it difficult? What could Wikipedia do to make it easier for you to add or edit articles?


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.


2 thoughts on “What can Wikipedia do to encourage new contributors?

  1. I suspect it's a combination of factors, the most prominent being a probable plateau-ing of need for critical or obvious contributions.

    However, it may also be that editing itself, while not difficult, is intimidating to newcomers, or frustrating to old hats. As a non infrequent contributor I do often wonder if a certain edit is worth my time–that is, will it be undone? Am I responsible for monitoring the page? Can I really make just a quick edit when the whole article needs to be reworked? And, if I choose to rework it, how will that be perceived by the previous contributors–presuming they are still watching. Etc.

    Admittedly, I may overthink things…

    1. "if I choose to rework it, how will that be perceived by the previous contributors"

      I have this feeling often as well, and I wonder if a novice wiki user (let alone a novice Wikipedai editor) feels this, too. I have seen examples of students who are reluctant to edit a classmates work in a wiki for fear of upsetting the original author. There can be some power dynamics at work and I can see situations where changing someone's work could be perceived by the original author as meddling instead of improving or contributing.

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