Wikipedia’s Next Steps

I know this through first hand experience…

Trying to edit or add content to Wikipedia’s arcane style and coding can be, at the very least, challenging and enormously time consuming, enough cause to stay away thereafter.

And that’s the reason why the better part of half of the active contributors are under 22 years of age and that most of its content has become skewed toward geek topics, featuring more articles on technology, science fiction and military history, than on the humanities and social sciences.

There is no question that in its first decade Wikipedia’s crowdsourced platform has successfully captivated and engaged masses of people. Just consider that it is now ranked as the fifth most-visited site in the world and yet, of the 400 million users who visit the site every month, according to Wikipedia’s own estimates, only 0.02-0.03 percent of visitors actively contribute to articles. Its stated vision, “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge,” has yet to be achieved.

So what have been the barriers for participation?

For starters, in its present state, Wikipedia deters content creation and editing by those who are best qualified to do so — the educators, who spend more time criticizing it, (usually for some minor error as in a typo), than engaging in it. If it is to serve this generation much like the Encyclopedia Britannica did the many generations that came before us, it needs to attract a new generation of knowledgeable editors that become comfortable with how to cite sources, provide references, validate the information they are adding and understand shortcuts that can be taken to provide an internal link in lieu of using the full html address for a forwarded article.

The good news is that it is now being addressed with the launch of a pilot project by the Wikimedia Foundation that includes several public policy initiatives on university campuses. Basically the initiatives will ask Professors at public policy programs in universities in the US to participate by first asking their students to better some existing articles and eventually include knowledge of navigating the Wikipedia as to edits and content creation in college curriculums. The Foundation plans to form Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors and Wikipedia Online Ambassadors who will help train these new Wikipedians. There will also be a Wikipedia Teaching Fellowship program to accompany the Public Policy Initiative programs.

In the end it’s like everything else. With training and mentoring in place, a new generation of editors should blossom and Wikipedia will finally achieve the status that once belonged to the venerable Britannica Encyclopedia. However, it is poised to reach the billions that the older encyclopedia never even envisioned.

The missing link has always been knowledge and willingness to adapt. With the expected batch of new editors resulting from the mentoring and training programs. Wikipedia’s founding vision of “freely sharing in the sum of all knowledge” can finally be achieved.