Wikipedia Growth Slows

October 26, 2009

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The once-exponential rate of growth in Wikipedia's size is slowing. The number of new articles per month peaked in 2007 at about 60,000, declining steadily to about two-thirds of that figure today, according to research by the Augmented Social Cognition Research Group at the Palo Alto Research Center. The number of active editors crested at about 820,000 in March of that year and has wavered between 650,000 and 810,000 since then. In addition, most of the edits to the online encyclopedia are made by a small group of users. The most active 1% of editors make more than 55% of changes.

Wikipedia has long seen its share of debate in the library community, and the meaning of this development is under much discussion. One theory is simply that because Wikipedia has grown so much, there's less information left to add. (As Wikipedia's "Modeling Wikipedia's Growth" page describes it: "More content also leads to less potential content, and hence less new content.") But the site has also become more tightly controlled in an attempt to stave off inaccuracies, with policies requiring changes to some articles to be reviewed by experienced editors. Some see the increased influence of a relatively small group of elite contributors as a threat.

"One theory that I might suggest is that we want a wellbalanced pyramid structure in the community population . . . with a healthy middle class" of lots of occasional contributors, wrote researcher Ed Chi on the Augmented Social Cognition Research Group's blog September 22.

"The danger with Wikipedia is that only those with a vested interest will continue to revise and add entries," Dave Tyckoson, past president of ALA's Reference and User Services Association, told American Libraries. "While most of Wikipedia is quite good, a smaller number of contributors may lead to greater bias."

"Perhaps it is time to encourage the profession to make more contributions," added RUSA President Susan Beck. "Librarians are the conscientious professionals who would be excellent at keeping content current in a source such as Wikipedia."