2,355 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
If you spend a lot of time using Wikipedia to unofficially settle bets like me, you've probably noticed recently that many of the crowdsourced encyclopedia's entries have started to get a little stale as volunteer enthusiasm for the project has waned.
Paradoxically, the world's most recognized crowdsourcing project has been in decline editorially for the past five years as its traffic only grows steadily with each year, according to its own report card. While the number of articles obviously continues to increase as, you know -- more stuff happens -- the number of active editors (known in the Wiki world as Wikipedians) has been slowly declining on the English versions of the site since peaking in 2007.
That means lots of articles have increasingly become incomplete, inaccurate or out-of-date. But with global internet penetration, along with Wikipedia's total article count, continuing to grow, it has managed to seemingly cement its place in the list of top 10 web properties according to Alexa and others.
Or maybe not.
The steady upward trajectory of growth in page views for Wikipedia has begun to become a bit shaky over the past two years. Peaks and valleys have begun to show up in what was once a straight line reaching to the sky. The erosion is most evident in the English language versions, which peaked in terms of page views in April of 2010 and then fell again, jumped up and down a bit only to regain some momentum and hit a new peak (just barely) in November of 2012.
Perhaps more telling is Alexa's data on Wikipedia, which shows a rather pronounced drop in the encyclopedia's popularity (when compared to all other sites on the Internet) beginning in August of 2012 that it didn't manage to fully recover from before the end of the year.
Could it be that knowledge seekers and bet-settlers are finally beginning to look elswhere online for answers?
"The problem Wikipedia faces is that it has many, many more readers than editors (only 6% of readers have ever tried, according to a 2011 survey) even if the line between them is supposedly no thicker than choosing to click the “Edit” button at the top of a page," writes William Beutler recently in his blog, The Wikipedian.
Beutler suspects that part of the problem in motivating more editors to contribute is that most of the popular topics have already been pretty well covered. Today the best opportunities for budding Wikipedians lies further outside the news cycle and more common topics than in years past. Beutler says areas like fairy tales, historical novels and pop culture from the 1990s are just a few places in need of some attention.
While Wiki editors may understandably be struggling to keep up with maintaining a virutal repository of all human knowledge, donors to the non-profit parent Wikimedia Foundation still seem to be enthusiastically tossing their dollars in the direction of Jimmy Wales and company.
The foundation announced recently that over 1.2 million Wikipedia readers donated a total of more than $25 million during its 2012 fundraiser.
The fundraising drive was the ninth annual to pay for server fees, increase the number of wiki editors, improve site software and keep Wikipedia and its sister sites ad-free.
“I’m grateful that the Wikipedia fundraiser was so successful. Our supporters are wonderful and without them we could not do the job of delivering free content worldwide,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Perhaps as a sign of improving economic conditions, or the declining quality of many Wikipedia entries, or just another Wiki-paradox, the Wikimedia Foundation says it completed its fundraising drive in record time, running the campaign on 5 English Wikipedia sites (in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand) for only 9 days, down from a 46-day campaign in 2011.
Wikimedia also says that while donations keep the lights on, the wiki operation still relies on roughly 80,000 volunteer editors, photographers and other contributors worldwide.
Some of the funds will also go to continuing to develop Wikipedia's mobile presence, which Gardner recently told AFP she sees as both an opportunity and a threat for the Wiki future:
"I think a lot about the shift to mobile devices from laptops and desk tops. It looks that the Internet is taking turn towards people using devices for consuming content more than creating it."
That's right, Wikipedia made over a century's worth of Encyclopaedia Brittanca's clout obsolete in just a few years, and now Angry Birds and Flipboard may wind up delivering the same blow to Wikipedia by stealing away all those spare hours the crowd could have been using to edit articles on the Oort Cloud or mitosis.
What do you think? Is Wikipedia beginning a downward spiral? Or did it begin long ago? Or will it continue to be a leading source of knowledge for some time forward? Let us know in the comments.
- Eric Mack is Managing Editor for Crowdsourcing.org. He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times. You can contact him at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow Crowdsourcing.org on Twitter.