In the news
Gender statistics, editors sued, and more
Wikipedia's changing culture, and gender statistics
Following a post-Wikimania New York Times article by Noam Cohen, "Wikipedia Looks Hard at Its Culture", a number of news outlets have picked up the wide gender gap among Wikipedia editors. The gender statistics—across languages, 30% of readers and 13% of editors are female—were reported earlier this year in the preliminary results (see summary from the Wikimedia blog) of the UNU-MERIT survey; the survey results were presented (see slides) and widely discussed at Wikimania.
Following Cohen's article Howard Weaver blogged about Wikipedia and professionalism, arguing that new features to screen out "assholes" and the hiring of consultants are signs that Wikipedia is becoming more like traditional information sources. Eugene Eric Kim (User:Eekim), manager of the Strategic Planning program and one of the consultants to which Weaver refers, posted a response to Cohen's article to clarify his role and his hopes for the strategic planning process.
Coverage of the gender statistics by the Wall Street Journal Digits blog prompted more coverage and commentary from a number of other news outlets. Drawing on an essay about the gender gap in science by Philip Greenspun, Gawker suggested that rather than sexism at work, the Wikipedia gender gap is "an example of the easily conned male ego."
Although it is the best data available, the UNU-MERIT survey is far from perfect. The respondents were self-selected, and there were unexplained anomalies in response rate, including a dramatic over-representation of Russian Wikipedia users (whose responses were initially excluded from the gender statistics and other survey results and analysis).
American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine sues editors
Courthouse News Service reports that the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation and ten anonymous editors over edits made to the organization's Wikipedia article. The Wikimedia Foundation is widely thought to be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act against liability for defamatory edits made by its users (see Signpost coverage of a previous lawsuit). However, Seth Finkelstein points out that the court summons names Wikimedia "solely as a nominal Defendent", which may indicate that Wikimedia is only named so that it can be made to provide identifying information about the individual editors who allegedly defamed the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.
Study: "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences"
In the draft of his forthcoming article "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences", to be published in the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law, law professor Eric Goldman explores the difficulties Wikipedia is facing, or may face in the future, in sustaining a sufficient level of volunteer maintenance effort.
Goldman's abstract states:
This Essay explains why Wikipedia will not be able to maintain a credible website while simultaneously letting anyone freely edit it. To date, Wikipedia editors have successfully defended against malicious attacks from spammers and vandals, but as editors turn over, Wikipedia will need to recruit replacements. However, Wikipedia will have difficulty with this recruiting task due to its limited incentives for participation. Faced with a potential labor squeeze, Wikipedia will choose to restrict users’ ability to contribute to the site as a way of preserving site credibility. Wikipedia’s specific configuration choices make it an interesting test case to evaluate the tension between free editability and site credibility, and this Essay touches on how this tension affects user-generated content (UGC) generally.
In the article, Goldman argues that Wikipedia's "recognition systems may prompt existing editors to work harder, but they are weakly calibrated to recruit new editors." He offers a number of possible ways Wikipedia could draw in more contributors.
As Ars Technica notes, Goldman made headlines in late 2005 when he predicted that Wikipedia would fail within 5 years, and followed up with a similar prediction in 2006. As Wikipedia scholar Joseph Reagle (User:Reagle) notes on his blog, Goldman's definition of "failure" for Wikipedia does not match up with the stated goals and core values of the project, which have always placed quality and free access to knowledge above pure openness to editing.
Goldman explains in a blog post about his new work that his current conclusion is that "substantial restrictions to user editability are Wikipedia's only viable long-term solution to preserve site credibility."
- Reactions to flagged revisions (or rather, Wikipedia:Flagged protection and patrolled revisions) and WikiTrust continue to circulate, including an attempt by Cory Doctorow to dispel misinformation, a column spreading such misinformation from Andrew Keen, and circumspect coverage of WikiTrust from InformationWeek.
- Blogger Roderic Page compares the Google search rankings for a number of online biology-related projects with taxonomic entries, including Wikipedia, Wikispecies, and the Encyclopedia of Life. In search results for mammal species names, Wikipedia is easily the most prominent, with Wikispecies and Wikimedia Commons the second and fourth most prominent results, respectively. Despite significant funding and a considerable amount of quality content, the Encyclopedia of Life fares poorly in Google results.
- Lifehacker Australia has an article on "Wikipedia Editing For Beginners".
- The tooltip for a recent xkcd comic, # 631, pokes fun at Wikipedia's user-made anatomical illustrations.