Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/24/wiki_contributors_declining/

Wikipedia springs free labor leak

Where have all the fiddlers gone?

By Cade Metz

Posted in Media, 24th November 2009 06:59 GMT

Wikipedia is leaking free labor - and fast.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a new Wikistudy says that in the first three months of the year, the "encyclopedia anyone can edit" lost 49,000 more volunteer contributors than it gained. That's ten times the net loss from the same period last year, according to a study compiled from public data by independent Wikiresearcher Felipe Ortega.

Free labor - along with some helpful Google algorithms - has built Wikipedia into the web's fifth most popular site. And as the volunteers flee, you have to wonder what the future holds. Will the site continue to expand? Will errors increase? Or decrease? Will the farce be as farcical?

Speaking with The Journal, the Wikimedia Foundation - the not-for-profit that oversees Wikipedia - says there's no reason for Wikialarm. "We need sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done," is the word from executive director Sue Gardner. "But the purpose of the project is not participation."

Officially, the purpose of the project is to provide free online access to "the sum of all human knowledge." But the site has served other purposes as well. Co-Founder Jimmy Wales, for instance, has been known to use the project as a means of seduction. And it's a great way to hide an epic financial scam.

Or at least it was.

Since the great naked shorting scandal, the site has gone a long way towards reforming itself. It has jettisoned longtime editors intent on rigging site content, while softening an unworkable belief that anyone should have the power to edit anything at any time. The site's inner circle has even gone so far as to ban the Church of Scientology.

In other words, Wikipedia is becoming less like a game and more like, well, an encyclopedia. Which could explain why so many people are leaving.

Of course, if enough people leave, the pendulum may once again swing the other way. We can only hope that it does. ®