IEEE magazine summarizes research on sustainability and low-hanging fruit
In its April edition, the IEEE's Computer magazine examined "The past, present, and future of Wikipedia", noting that Wikipedia is facing "real challenges in recruiting new editors and in keeping existing contributors productive." The IEEE is the world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology.
After citing results by PARC researchers who in 2009 observed that new users were encountering increasing resistance to their edits, and were frequently leaving soon after (Signpost coverage) the article summarizes growth models for Wikipedia, replacing the earlier naive exponential growth hypothesis with logistic or Lotka–Volterra equations (an "ecological" model with predators and prey corresponding roughly to editors and possible encyclopedic topics), and other research (for example, a 2007 article that found "editors are spending more
and more time doing ... meta-level things such as having discussions with one another, developing policies, and fighting vandalism").
As indirect evidence for the theory "that Wikipedians might indeed be
running out of things to write about" (sometimes referred to as the "low-hanging fruits" explanation for stagnating activity), the authors – Shyong (Tony) K. Lam and John Riedl from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota – quote their own earlier research which found that "on average, articles created early in Wikipedia’s life received many more hits than articles created more recently, suggesting that newer articles tend to be about low-interest topics. "
The authors conclude:
|From [Wikipedia's] inception, the number of active editors had grown rapidly until recently. Millions of new editors continue to sign up every year, but corresponding millions leave, never to edit again. The most likely explanation is increasing conflict: as Suh and his PARC colleagues suggest, the ecological niche for Wikipedia is filling up, and contributors are increasingly likely to find themselves in a fight when trying to improve an article.
In principle, this increasing conflict might be fine. Properly channeled, it could lead to improved quality. ... There is a risk, though, of gridlock, with millions of editor-hours invested in negotiating changes that provide little actual improvement to the articles.
We believe it is important for Wikipedia to explore new social computing tools that can aid the community in surviving these challenges by helping contributors work together happily and efficiently.
An upcoming article "will explore the issue of quality".
Qwiki launches iPad app
As reported earlier ("Robot reader of Wikipedia articles", "WP pages in video form") a multimedia website called Qwiki, backed by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, uses text summaries drawn from any chosen English Wikipedia article to synthesize topic-based text, images and videos into slide shows.
Qwiki recently launched an iPad app, as noted by The Huffington Post , TechCrunch  and other media outlets.
The app is available for free on the iTunes store.
On Wikipedia Review (a web forum devoted to critical commentary about Wikipedia), a user going by the name of Peter Damian announced that he had published an article about Wikipedia in the spring edition of The Skeptical Adversaria, the quarterly newsletter of the British Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE), criticizing Wikipedia from a skeptical perspective. According to ASKE's web presence , the newsletter "is deliberately informal in tone and gives all our members a chance to air their views."
Damian also posted excerpts and a link to a PDF version of the article, according to which its introduction says:
|Unfortunately the principle of crowdsourcing has not really worked for Wikipedia, for a number of reasons that sceptics, and all those who care about the scientific method, should be concerned about. ... Not everyone who edits Wikipedia has an interest in getting the facts right. This leads to a systematic bias on Wikipedia against scientific neutrality.
Among the articles cited as examples are:
- Moon landing conspiracy theories ("The talk pages are entertaining, and a testimony to the patience and fortitude of those who have strived – in this case successfully – to maintain neutrality. ")
- "The article on Levitation currently (February 2011) discusses the subject as though it were an established phenomenon" (mostly referring to a section titled "Mystical levitation in Christianity". On Wikipedia Review, Damian noted that the article has since been changed significantly by a Wikipedian to whom he circulated a draft of his article, and another one who read it after publication.)
- Electronic Voice Phenomenon and Integral Theory, as cases where an "asymmetry of interest" between "sceptics and non-sceptics" leads to bias, arguing that proponents of a pseudoscientific theory tend to focus their attention on one article, while the "handful of editors, sceptics or scientists, who have an ideological and independent commitment to the truth, as far it can be derived from 'reliable sources' ... must spread their resources across all such pages."
As further reasons for a perceived bias against skeptic views, the article posits conflict of interest ("A fringe editor has a strong reward in seeing their biased advertising in full public view"), Wikipedia policy ("The burden of proof, for those who wish to remove claims, is to prove that the claim is not supported by 'reliable sources'"), anonymous editing and sockpuppets, and the claim that "Wikipedia has an administration which is supposed to be neutral, but it was long ago infiltrated both by members of the pseudoscience establishment and sceptic groups".
In the conclusion, the author says his advice to sceptics "is emphatically not to edit Wikipedia. It is painful and one-sided and stressful. A better practice is to select some area of pseudoscience or cultism or crankism, and document its treatment on Wikipedia" (for example, in the article criticism of Wikipedia, since converted into a disambiguation page).
The newsletter's editor, Professor Michael Heap of Sheffield University, wrote that "There may be readers who contribute, or have contributed, to Wikipedia and who would like to present their own views on this important topic. If you are one such reader you are very welcome to have your views aired in the next issue of the newsletter."
Last year, Peter Damian (or someone using the same name) criticized the quality of Wikipedia's coverage in philosophy – and the humanities in general – in many postings to the Foundation-l mailing list (e.g. , ), where he was eventually moderated, following earlier blocks on Wikipedia (cf. Signpost coverage).
- Wiktionary benefits from Google update: According to a blog posting by German SEO software company SISTRIX GmbH, Wiktionary.org was the "biggest winner" in an update of Google's search result ranking algorithm two weeks ago, as measured by SISTRIX' own "VisibilityIndex" ("an index value calculated from traffic on keywords, ranking and click-through rate on specific positions"). The change formed the second stage of Google's "Panda" algorithm update begun in February, which is interpreted as an attempt to reduce the ranking of low-quality "content farms", and was reported to have benefited Wikipedia (Signpost coverage). In the second stage, it was extended from the US to all English-speaking countries. SISTRIX commented: "Like last time, Google seems to have reached its goal: ranking quality content better than before".
- Local paper scrutinizes coverage of town: The quality of Wikipedia's article on Eugene, Oregon was examined in a column in local newspaper The Register-Guard. The quality of the column was in turn discussed on the talk page of WikiProject Oregon.
- BLP subject notes errors, still praises Wikipedia: According to Monsters and Critics, (US musician) "John Legend found out (his) Wikipedia page had been changed after he was asked strange questions", but despite the errors still said that "Wikipedia is great for quick info. I use it all the time. Just don't use it as your primary source if you're about to publish something."
- "Campus Ambassadors" pilot in India: Hisham Mundol, the Wikimedia Foundation's "India Programs" consultant, visited Pune last week to prepare the launch of a Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors program in India – outreach activists who provide training and advice about editing Wikipedia at educational institutions. As quoted in an article by local daily The Pune Mirror ("Now, you can be a Wikipedia ambassador!"), Mundol explained that "Pune is India’s education capital and the city has more than two lakh [200,000] students, ... which is why Wikipedia will be starting the programme from here." (The article's positive tone was contrasted by an article in the same paper a few days later that used Wikipedia as an example for the downsides of "crowdsourcing" to ask "Will Google Maps lead people astray, the Wikipedia way?".) As opposed to the Public Policy Initiative launched by the WMF last year, which introduced the ambassadors concept, the Indian ambassadors will not be restricted to one particular academic field. In a report posted after the visit, Mundol concluded that "there appears to be a reasonable level of interest, laced with a degree of (healthy) skepticism on how it can be made to work in India."
- Wikimedia UK conference: The Next Web covered the annual meeting of the British Wikimedia chapter ("WikiMedia UK to hire full-time staff, aims to increase content quality on Wikipedia", see also last week's "News and notes").