The "lumpy work in progress" that is Wikipedia has now become the focus of additional media coverage with a feature article in The New Yorker. While covering ground that may be familiar to some readers, the article offers an interesting synthesis of the material with occasional insights and a touch of humor.
Entitled "Know It All", the article asks in its subtitle, "Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?" The lengthy piece, which appears in the 31 July issue of the magazine, was written by Stacy Schiff. Some may recall that Schiff previously discussed Wikipedia in an op-ed column for The New York Times, in the aftermath of the wikitorial experiment at the Los Angeles Times.
The article recounts some of the background to Wikipedia's creation and its early development under Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. It also relates how Wikipedia grew, added administrators, and elaborated its policies until they became "a regulatory thicket". Schiff touches upon a variety of disputes and controversies, bringing in perspectives from Sanger and Encyclopædia Britannica president Jorge Cauz (curiously, there was no mention of the Seigenthaler incident).
Schiff also reiterates the point that the bulk of the work on Wikipedia is done by a relatively small proportion of users. Using the same numbers, Wikipedia was cited by Charles Arthur in The Guardian on Thursday 20 July as an example of what he called the "1% Rule" — that only 1% of people online will actually engage in significant content creation (similar to the Pareto principle). He suggested that "if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will "interact" with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it."
Responses to Schiff's article from Wikipedia editors were generally positive. Andrew Lih said it "aptly captures Wikipedia's most interesting corners." Others wondered about specific points mentioned in the story, such as the guesstimate that 80% of contributors are male.