Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
25 November 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:28am

Is Wikipedia dying?

And should we care?

By George Eaton

Today’s Times reports that the future of Wikipedia is in doubt as the website haemorrhages volunteers and fails to attract new contributors.

According to new research, the fifth most popular site in the world lost 49,000 volunteers in the first three months of 2009 alone. They included 23,000 of its 100,000 English-language editors.

Felipe Ortege, who carried out the research, warns: “If you don’t have enough people to take care of the project it could vanish quickly. We’re not in that situation yet. But eventually, if the negative trends follow, we could be in that situation.”

The downturn in contributors is largely due to new restrictions placed on editing articles. These are designed to deter vandals from using the site.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

It’s now likely that Wikipedia will come to resemble something far closer to a conventional encyclopedia, one maintained by an elite band of time-rich editors.

Should it fade away, there are some who won’t miss it. The Times piece is accompanied by an extraordinary assault on the site from Oliver Kamm, who denounces it as an “anti-intellectual venture” and accuses it of “vainglorious amateurism”.

I share Kamm’s concern that the site too often falls prey to the tyranny of consensus, but I struggle to see how a freely available, volunteer-produced encyclopedia can be accused of anti-intellectualism. What’s remarkable is not how many articles are inaccurate, but how few.

The truth remains, to paraphrase Voltaire, that if Wikipedia did not exist we would have to invent something like it.


Sign up to the New Statesman newsletter and receive weekly updates from the team