Will Wikipedia edit itself out of existence?

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iol scitech wikipedia jan 18 REUTERS Paid editing for promotional purposes is considered a black hat practice, says Wikimedia Foundation.

London - For all the criticism it gets, Wikipedia is one of the finest resources man has created.

The online encyclopedia has sprung from a blank page to one of the most comprehensive resources in just a decade, spanning almost all of humanity’s history, culture and science.

But if it has an Achilles Heel, it is that the site is only as strong as its administrators and editors – and the number of new administrators has fallen dramatically since what might be considered the “heyday” of 2007.

Administrators are able to delete posts, block editors and protect pages, and are one of the site’s most valuable assets, particularly on controversial topics such as religious controversy or breaking news stories.

“Volunteer editing of Wikipedia is on a long decline. The number of editors peaked in 2007 and has been falling since. Lots of people know this,” wrote Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic website recently.

A chart available from Wikipedia itself shows the number of administrators in 2007, when 408 were promoted in 12 months, halved to 201 the following year, then almost halved again to 121 in 2009.

The pattern continued, until we reach just nine administrators promoted in the first six months of 2012.

The total number of unsuccessful administrators is also telling – 512 people applied unsuccessfully for a role in 2007, which reduced to 87 in 2011.

Editors are less “powerful” than administrators, but no less important: they add and source information, remove vandalism, tidy pieces up, and act as arbitrators on the discussion pages.

Those who treat the work with the utmost respect lead to well-groomed and authoritative pages, although naturally there have been many controversies in Wikipedia’s past where editors have either let power or their own opinions go to their head.

The number of editors has stayed consistent, but the site has nearly quadrupled from 1.5 million pages in January 2011 to more than four million today.

Part of the reason for the decline in new administrators may be due to the gruelling process applicants have to go through.

Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution and a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, said the vetting process to become an administrator “is akin to putting someone through the Supreme Court”.

It involves answering questions about copyright law, writing essays about notability, explaining how you would deal with hypothetical situations, and having no skeletons in your Wikipedia closet.

A spokesman for Wikimedia, which supports and promotes the encyclopedia, responded: “The peak for new administrators came between 2005 and 2008, and it was a fairly consistent trend.

“Many of them have been with us a long time and are still active on the site.

“In a sense, there are only so many administrators we need.

“We have reached the four million page milestone on Wikipedia, and as such our emphasis changes from quantity to quality.”

– Daily Mail

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