This essay <download below> is being published as part of the ‘Critical Point of View: Wikipedia Research Initiative’ Reader. Thank you to Geert and Nathaniel and the rest of the folks at the Amsterdam-based Institute of Network Cultures (INC) and the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society for making me realise that you can love something and be critical about it – and that sometimes you have to love it to be truly so.
Much has been said of the future of Wikipedia. Some have prophesied that the online encyclopaedia will fail due to increasing spam. Others have said that, as large parts of the world go online, Wikipedia might see a wave of new editors as countries from Zambia to Indonesia begin to fill in Wikipedia’s blank spots. In a project that aims to ‘make all human knowledge accessible’, those blank spots can mean many things: the hundreds of thousands of places that aren’t talked about on Wikipedia, the thousands of languages that either don’t have their own encyclopaedia or are struggling to build one, and the countless things that people know about their world but aren’t in written form.
This essay is concerned, not so much with the future of the English version of Wikipedia (about which much of the prophesying occurs) but with the 277 other language Wikipedias. Will this number shrink as editors grow tired of their lonely pursuits, or will it grow as more of the world goes online? As large parts of Africa go online, it is expected that they will start to edit Wikipedia and that they will edit it in their own language. Both of these assumptions may be incorrect. Firstly, there are a number of external and internal limitations to this new wave of editors joining Wikipedia, and secondly, the scale of smaller Wikipedias may mean that they are over-shadowed by stronger motivations to edit the larger, more powerful English version.
‘The Missing Wikipedians’ in Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-13-1. Download PDF