Wikipedia's Final Days

In the conclusion of my dissertation I note how in 2004 a disaffected Wikipedian told me the project had gone downhill. Ironically, a few years later another Wikipedian who began their career in 2004 looked upon that year as the golden age from which Wikipedia had declined. Nostalgia is a fascinating phenomenon in human memory and history. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find news stories year after year, since the Seigenthaler incident of 2005, speaking of Wikipedia’s doom. These stories are often prompted by an embarrassing vandalism case or a competitor who claims to have righted all that is wrong in Wikipedia. This is yet another instance in a larger history of failed predictions about technologically related phenomena.

Even so, the past few weeks seems particularly pessimistic.

  • BCO tallies the “25 Biggest Blunders in Wikipedia History
  • Stephen Foley asks So is Wikipedia cracking up?
  • Andrew Lih continues his long-running lament of bureaucracy and deletionism (an issued characterized last year by The Economist as the “Battle for Wikipedia’s Soul”.) He fears that the lack of a Wikipedia article on MTV’s new jackass-type show in which a “diverse bunch of mentally challenged reporters (from Down to Williams syndrome)” become roving street reporters is a sign of decline in Wikipedia’s previously unquestioned pop culture coverage.
  • Andrew’s colleagues on Wikipedia Weekly join him in apocalyptic anxiety because it does not appear that the number of Wikipedia contributors will perpetually grow forever.
  • A story entitled “Doomed: Why Wikipedia Will Fail” reports that law professor Eric Goldman believes the end is nigh.

I am concerned about the brittleness that results from the tension of being open to both newcomers and attack. Yet, it also seems unavoidable as Wikipedia became more prominent; I don’t think this issue will sink Wikipedia, and hope it is amenable to continued good faith discussion and hard work. I don’t subscribe to the perpetual growth theory that seems to be the presumption of many of the participants of Wikipedia Weekly – and the world markets prior to a year ago. I think Wikipedia will survive even though/if the number of contributors levels off and flag revisions are enabled. The latter feature might prompt a flurry of stories about how Wikipedia is over, but it might stem the flow of future stories about embarrassing vandalism. Wikipedia won’t be the same a couple of years from now as it was a couple of years ago, but nothing ever is.

Ported/Archived Responses

Joseph Reagle on 2009-02-12

A cynical but amusing commentary!

Moulton on 2009-02-12

Wikipedia is constructed on an unsustainable model for its intended purpose.

However, the model on which the project is happenstantially constructed is not entirely useless.

In many ways, Jimbo has crafted the Web 2.0’s premier Drama Engine, fulfilling an important need of many people who have limited interest in polishing articles of encyclopedic merit, but who have considerable interest in participating in a post-modern theater of the absurd.

Even those who initially took the project at face value (and found it wanting) can still appreciate the usefulness of the site as workshop for political dramaturgy.

David Gerard on 2009-02-17

The typical time of being an active Wikipedian appears to be 12-18 months. (I’m looking for the paper on this, by Elonka Dunin.) The stated reason for the disillusionment may not take this into consideration.

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