Whither wikis?

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones reports on Wikipedia’s challenges:

Will the online encyclopaedia that has become the first destination for millions of web users searching information end up withering away, as its worker bees lose interest in keeping it nourished? That’s the question raised by a study of Wikipedia editors carried out by a Spanish academic for the Wall Street Journal.

It shows that editors are giving up on Wikipedia far faster than new ones are joining, with a net loss of 49,000 editors in the first three months of 2009. 

At the same time, Wikipedia’s popularity continues to grow:

Even if it does become more difficult to get people interested in contributing to Wikipedia, there’s no doubt that user numbers just keep on growing. Wikipedia itself reckons between 28% and 37% of the UK internet population are regular users. 

In other words, users love it, but for writers and editors, it might be losing its lustre. As one of the commentators on the BBC Web site has posted:

MediaWiki is a very clever bit of software, but from the users point of view it is a minefield. If you are a writer, then you want the medium you use to be familiar to you – you certainly do NOT want to have to learn an entire new syntax.

Those companies hoping for a worldwide community of unpaid enthusiasts may need to confront a nasty reality:

  1. They might need to reward contributors and editors
  2. They might need to look further afield than the MediaWiki platform.


Larry Kunz

I suppose that’s true, Ellis. Companies that hope to profit from a “worldwide community of unpaid enthusiasts” will likely find that there’s no free lunch.

But I think that the Wikipedia model is the exception, not the rule. Wikis have a promising future as a tool for gathering content from SMEs and customers; content that technical communicators can then repurpose for a variety of audiences in a variety of output formats.

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