Wikipedia Vs Software

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So I, along with everyone else today, got forwarded this link which shows that Wikipedia has begun its journey from an edit-focused hive of activity, to read-only archive, as people stop editing the site.

As one of the larger “open" projects, it can point to possibilities in the future for other projects. It also mirrors smaller projects, and the history we discovered years ago. So, what does this tell us?

Perhaps it shows us that we haven’t got anything left to write about! Actually, maybe the opposite is true—there’s lots left to write about, but no one wants to do it. Maybe it’s similar to the situation when many people stopped writing kernels and operating system tools and moved onto desktop applications; they’d exhausted their interest in that area, and moved onto other problems to solve.

In the Wikipedia case, they’ve usually stopped because either:

  • They don’t know any other subjects
  • Someone will edit (or delete) their articles

Either way, it shows a limit that open developers reach within their community. In the first case, it demonstrates an ability plateau that while we’re very good at Monty Python quotes, we’re less forthcoming about our skills in medieval crochet!

The second case highlights a personality plateau where the editors, regulars, and die-hard Wikipedia fans have taken over the asylum. I’ve seen articles marked for deletion because they’re not in Google (have these people never ventured outside into the real world?) or because they don’t deem it important enough. For a site intended to contain all knowledge, I don’t see how either approach can be used to achieve this goal. And who are they to consider it important enough? The last example I saw (names excluded to protect the guilty half-wits involved) caused the deletion of an industry publication by someone with no knowledge of the industry in question. When the opinions of an industry insider are quashed by a 17 year old Wikicrat zealot with too much time on their hands, it degenerates in territorial pissing wars that turn away all the casual contributors.

If these attitudes were prevalent in software development, the code would have either got forked, re-written, or left to rot. When buzz of the original dies, everyone moves onto other things. Oh I forgot, that already does happen...

Hasn’t anyone learnt?

(And no, just don’t get me started on the amount plagiarized work present there...



CC's picture

I've been noticing that the revisions and deletions are becoming the bulk of what is on the top of the most edited lists on wikirage.

Terry Hancock's picture

Don't read too much into this.

The statistics displayed show a decrease in the rate of growth of Wikipedia, not in the total volume of Wikipedia (which is still growing). That was bound to happen.

Wikipedia's growth rate over the first few years has been EXTRAORDINARY! Its doubling time was well under a year, right up to sizes which are unprecedented in the history of encyclopedias.

Had it continued to follow that growth curve, it would've exceeded Moore's Law growth of storage facilities, and eventually consumed all disk space on Earth sometime in the next two or three decades.

Now, obviously, SOMETHING has to start damping out that growth. Very possibly it is merely success -- nearly everything that contributors feel should be there is already there. So, at that point, activity slows down and moves on to improving existing articles. Some of those edits will be infuriating to users whose work is edited, leading to anecdotal stories about revert-happy admins. But as a general trend, it seems fairly natural.

I was very curious when this would start to happen -- now I guess we know. Which is interesting. But hardly a cause for panic, IMHO.

Stephen Besch's picture
Submitted by Stephen Besch (not verified) on

It's interesting to note that the likelihood of a contribution to a WIKI is greatest when the WIKI is empty. This is also when the likelihood of edits is lowest - there's simply not that much to edit. As the WIKI grows, contributions must slow down, if not because there is less to write about, at least because the reader and would-be contributor has an increasingly hard time discovering things that have not already been contributed. At the same time, editing rate goes up because there's so much more to edit.

Thilo Pfennig's picture

I think that these statistics are rather an alarm signal for Wikipedia. If I should say why I have stopped editing - it is because too many contributions and pages got deleted. If Wikiepdia looses momentum it will potentially die. Momentum is what drives a project. Maybe some believe Wikipedia already has most of the knowledge it could have - bnut I think it is missing most of the common knowledge of humanity - and yes I mean the knwledge that is already written down.

I have forseen exactly such thing happening. no community can survive such attacks. And I also see the point where Wikipedia will actually shrink and no longer grow. Which is fatal, because as soon as it is not growing and more in user numbers and content the content a lot of the content must be kept uptodate by fewer people. Which means that they cant really keep it uptodate because most content was driven by a much larger crowd.

I hope we see an alternative Wiki rising which start where Wikipedia has failed. I dont think Wikipedia will be able to revive itself - they already have come to the point where they are so bureaucrativ that they are not flexible any more. They have successfully killed the Wiki principles in Wikipedia. :-(

Thilo Pfennig

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Steven Goodwin's picture


When builders go down to the pub they talk about football. Presumably therefore, when footballers go down to the pub they talk about builders! When Steven Goodwin goes down the pub he doesn’t talk about football. Or builders. He talks about computers. Constantly...

He is also known as the angry man of open source.

Steven Goodwin a blog that no one reads that, and a beer podcast that no one listens to :)