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The State of the Wiki

From Wikimania

The State of the Wiki

Presenter Jimmy Wales (Wikimedia Foundation)
Themes Communities
About the presenter
Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales, is an American Internet entrepreneur best known for founding Wikipedia.org, as well as other wiki-related organizations, including the charitable organization Wikimedia Foundation, and the for-profit company Wikia, Inc.

Wales received his Bachelor's degree in finance from Auburn University and his Master's in finance from University of Alabama. He was appointed a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School in 2005 and in 2006, he joined the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization Creative Commons.

In January of 2001, Wales started Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and today Wikipedia and its sister projects are among the top-five most visited sites on the web (comScore, January 2009). In mid-2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida, to support Wikipedia.org. The Foundation, now based in downtown San Francisco, boasts a staff of close to thirty focusing on fundraising, technology, and programming relating to the expansion of Wikipedia. Wales now sits on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, and as founder continues to act as a key spokesperson.

In 2004, Wales co-founded Wikia, Inc., a for-profit company that enables groups of people to share information and opinions that fall outside the scope of an encyclopedia. Wikia’s community-created wikis range from video games and movies to finance and environmental issues. Wikia, Inc., attracts more than 30 million unique visitors per month to its 10,000+ enthusiast communities.

In 2007, The World Economic Forum recognized Wales as one of the “Young Global Leaders.” This prestigious award acknowledges the top 250 young leaders for their professional accomplishments, their commitment to society and their potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world. In addition, Wales received the “Time 100 Award” in 2006, as he was named one of the world’s most influential people in the “Scientists & Thinkers” category.


"I will speak in general about the 'state of the wiki' worldwide - in particular looking at various wikipedia languages around the world in various languages and talking about how they are doing, etc. The goal of my talk is to remind us all to think about how we can help to realize our shared goals in *all* the languages of the world... and to focus our attention on where we are succeeding and where we haven't made much progress."

Language English
Slides (download)
Video (download)


(Introduction omitted.)

Jimmy Wales: Thank you. Is my mic on? Very good.

Well, good morning. I was just—I've been telling everybody, as I tell everybody every year, I've been travelling all over the world and I give many, many speeches about Wikipedia and there's only one speech I give every year that makes me nervous. Normally, I'm giving people a general introduction to Wikipedia and I'm explaining that the Foundation is a non-profit organisation and explaining how Wikipedia works.

Unfortunately, in this room, of course, well, how many people here have heard of Wikipedia? (Laughter)

I don't have to do that question. Has anybody here edited Wikipedia? Ah, I see, two or three. That's good!

So we don't have to do all those kinds of things.

So, anything I might want to talk to you about, there are people in this room who know more about it than I do. And so I run the risk of making a horrible error. But if I do, that's actually good because then it opens up a conversation and that's what Wikimania really should be about is conversations about what is going on with our movement and what we are going to do in the future.

So, first a bit of overview: Wikimedia's first eight years. And I can tell you that a lot of the slides I'm going to be presenting today in good free culture style took from someone else. A lot of these slides came from the beginning of the strategy process and that's one of the main themes of my talk: to let you know about the strategic planning process and how you can get involved with it, and where we are starting out from.

This is some great people from Bridgeman who put together some information and facts. A lot of this you already know. We've got now thirteen million articles in 217 different languages. More than 17 million pages. More than 325 million edits. 330 million visitors monthly in 2009. I travel all over the world and it's always really remarkable to me to find our work has had impact in all kinds of different places. And that's something that is only going to continue in the next few years. I'm confident that I will be here in five years saying that, you know, we had one billion visitors. And why not? Because as more and more people come online, they are going to be using Wikipedia and we are going to have an impact all over the world more and more.

A hundred thousand active contributors. We've had these really interesting situations where we are starting to have success partnering with institutions who will donate to Wikipedia. There's been some really interesting projects with museums that are co-operating with us instead of fighting with us, which is nice to have for a change.

And there have been over fifty different books published about the Wikipedia phenomenon, which is kind of an amazing thing to think about. It's, err, we're really getting the attention of a lot of people.

So, as many of you know, one of my great passions is for the global nature of Wikipedia. And I think it is really easy as you work in the projects to—as many of you know, I work primarily, in terms of my project work, in the English Wikipedia, working with the Arbitration Committee and answering random questions and e-mails and things like this. It's very easy for us to get very involved in our own project, whatever that is, and lose sight of the global nature of what it is we are trying to do. So I always try to review this and really try to get people to thinking about how many different Wikipedias there are.

And everything I'm saying about Wikipedia, unfortunately, I'm primarily focussing on Wikipedia today, and actually on my way over in the taxi, I felt bad because I felt I didn't do any research or homework on any of the other projects, but I don't mean to slight them. I just didn't—this is the focus of my talk today.

We have 9 languages now with more than 500,000 articles. We have 27 languages with at least 100,000. We have 90 languages with at least 10,000 articles. And we have 177 languages with at least 1,000 articles. Now, this is a really interesting thing to me: because if we want to have a free encyclopedia for everybody on the planet in their own language, 177 languages doesn't get you that. If you have seen, I believe it was in Frankfurt at Wikimania where I kind of codified this and said I want to have 250,000 articles in—I think the number was 300-and-something languages, all the languages which have at least one million speakers.

That's the sort of codification of what that goal means. There's still a lot of languages that have at least a million speakers who we haven't addressed at all. Later in my talk, I'll going to talk about some of these.

It's interesting to look at how that number has changed. So how has it changed over time? How are we doing in terms of growing Wikipedia in smaller languages? And I think this number has somewhat stabilised. Of course, some of it is still growing because some of the smaller Wikipedias, as they grow they cross that 1,000 article threshold.

It was interesting to go back to what that number looked like over the past few years. (And by the way, this was a difficult exercise as the list of Wikipedias on Meta is now a table that comes from another page, and I had to go through the history of that, then I got lost. Well, anyway. I had to dig around to find this.) In August of 2007, we had 73 languages that had at least 1,000 articles. That doesn't make sense, something has gone wrong with my numbers. The numbers are right but the dates are wrong. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5.

Okay, 2005, we had 73. 2006, we went up by 34 to 107. In 2007, we went up by 36 to 143. Then, in the last two years, it started to slow down a little bit: with 13 and 21 languages. That's kind of interesting because what that tells us—and I expect, it's not like this is fading down to nothing, I expect this to be like 190, 210. We're going to keep growing. But we're not seeing an exponential takeoff in all those other languages. So to get that last 100 languages up to 1,000 articles, we're just getting started. There's still a lot of work to be done.

But it is interesting. Take a look at this: this is the traffic numbers. And, of course, we know that the English Wikipedia is the largest, but it is really interesting to watch—this is the monthly unique visitors at Wikimedia sites, and this is looking at the United States, where it has grown, and is growing, but it's not spiking upwards because when you are at 100 million—we're reaching about ⅓ of the US, obviously there's not much that room to go up necessarily. Of course, we can get that to 150 million or 200 perhaps. But when you are in the top three search results for pretty much everything in Google, you are not going to reach a whole lot more people. The other two-thirds of people who aren't coming to Wikipedia every month—I don't even know what they are doing online. How do you not come to Wikipedia?

But the interesting number for me is this worldwide number. And that worldwide number is skyrocketing. And there are lot of reasons for that. One of the reasons for that is unlike in the large languages of Wikipedia where we have more than 250,000 articles, in many, many languages, we don't have a lot of content. So if you only have 10,000 entries in a particular language, when people are searching in a search engine in their own language, then when we only have 10,000 things, they aren't going to find it if it isn't one of those 10,000. As we grow the content—as we grow the works, I know Richard told us yesterday not to say content—as we grow the works in the different languages, these numbers are going to go up as there are more and more things in Wikipedia.

As you can see here, this is the number of articles in all these different languages. This is a map of the world showing the darkest countries is greater than 30% penetration, then the light blue is 16-30 percent, and the rest is under 15%. I think this chart is very interesting. As you can see, hiring Sue was a very effective strategy for increasing our reach in Canada. But this is pretty much what you expect: you see the strength in Germany, France, the UK—we always knew we've been very strong in Europe. Of course, and look at Japan—very, very large. And in a minute we'll see what's going on in Japan, because that's very interesting too. But Africa, and this graph only shows less than 15%, which is a very crude and rough measure, and shows Africa and India being the same, but they are very, very different. I think a more detailed map would show significant differences there. But you can see, there's still a lot of the world where we're not reaching 30% of all Internet users every month. So that's a really interesting thing.

The lowest penetration that we have is in China which is about 1% of Internet users in China. I guess everybody here knows the main reason for that is we were blocked in China for three years. We've been open in China now for—since just before the Olympics. As you may know, I went and visited the minister, the vice minister of the state council of information office. We had a nice meeting in Beijing, he came and visited the Foundation, and brought a group of people to learn about Wikipedia. I'm going next week to China again and I'm going to have another meeting with the minister. Basically, we're in a state of getting to know them and making sure they are aware of us and they don't think of us as something completely foreign so that when they have a problem, if they think about blocking us again, I'm hopeful that they'll at least talk to us. But even so, after we've been unblocked we are very, very small in China. Not that Chinese Wikipedia is small—there are lots of people not living in China, but that's an area I think we'll see really large growth in the next few years.

So when we look at the layout of the top ten languages worldwide. Across this way, we have how well we do with—what percentage of Internet users look at us, this is the number of languages, and the size of the circles is how many speakers there are. So basically what you can see here is fairly obvious: in English, and German for example, we have a large number of articles, we reach a very percentage of the Internet users who are using that language versus down on this end, we see Chinese there which is a large circle, with a very large number of speakers, but we don't have many articles and we aren't reaching many users there. This chart has some problems with the data because dividing language and country is difficult. But I think it's a reasonable, rough look at how we are doing in different places.

One of the areas where we are going to see a lot of growth in the future, and this is going to be a really important component of growth in a lot of these places is in the mobile Internet. And if you see, you can assess where we are in mobile: this is the overall mobile use and Wikipedia mobile use.

Some of the reasons we've never had mobile interface features: that's changed to some extent, and that's going to continue to change. But this is, again, when you are thinking about all these issues, what you want to think about is given that the foundation has limited resources, where should we put emphasis? What is our goal? Where do we want to be in five years and how are we going to get there? Thinking about the reach there are several key questions: how should we prioritise growth among different populations - different languages, different countries? How does our traditional approach to growth need to change? In other words, what are some of the things that we've never done in the past that we should be doing in order to assist with the growth of Wikipedia in the different areas and languages that we haven't addressed historically? Certainly in all the major languages where we are successful, it has been enough to have the website there and a group of volunteers who have been working and pushing it forward. There are questions: how do you get more entries in some of these other languages?

There are some other things - these slides are going to go up on, somewhere, Strategy wiki, at some point.

So here is one of the more interesting things then: this is again looking at several of the top languages in the world. This is looking at the number of contributors who make at least five edits in a month. So what we see - and this is not including English, English is just much larger - but let's look at German Wikipedia: what we see is there are a huge run up in people making five edits a month and then it just levelled off. One of the open questions is "what is the cause of that?" And is it a cause for concern?

Here are a couple of hypotheses:

One of the hypothesis is German Wikipedia and all of the large Wikipedias, as you get up to one million articles, basically there's not much more stuff to do. And it's also not as exciting because you can't sort of go and open up a whole new field of research and can't be the person who writes 'Africa is a continent' and be the first person to do that. Instead of that, there's a lot more detailed work, a lot more articles to be worked on. And maybe that's just not as appealing to as many people so basically we've found all the people who are great Wikipedians and enjoy doing that sort of thing. So that's no problem, we can maintain and focus on increasing the quality and making a stable community.

So, maybe it's not a concern, but maybe another hypothesis is as we've grown and we've got more and more policies and more and more rules and regulations as a community, it's become more of a community of people who really know each other. Maybe we haven't been as friendly to outsiders as we could have been. Maybe we've lost some of that spirit of welcoming new people.

Another hypothesis is that in terms of people who are tech savvy, we've already peaked out and we've got all the geeks—all the computer geeks—and until we make changes to the software to make it accessible to people who are geeks but not computer geeks maybe we've limited ourselves, so there's a lot of things to think about here.

So there are a lot of things to think about here, and I don't think anybody really knows the answers yet. There's a lot of research to be done, a lot of experiments that could be tried.

My concern is that when I see this in English and German for example, I'm not that that worried about it. It's not like we're hurting for people to contribute. Where I do worry about it is where we have the same kind of pattern where things level off with a very small number of users in, for example, Hindi, which is here at the bottom. Now, in this chart, it's so compressed you can't really see what's going on. Hindi is the bottom line there. But what I hope to see with Hindi is that it's like this then it spikes up and maybe it eventually tapers off as well, and that's fine. But it should start tapering off when they have 500,000 articles, not when they have a very small number of articles.

So basically we know that our community has been dominated by a relatively homogenous base of very active contributors—take a look around this room, right? There's a very sort of standard demographic: mostly male, computer geeks, things like this. We're cross-cultural because we're across many different languages but still we know we're all from the free software world, from geek culture, and there's a whole range of different kinds of people who have not contributed to Wikipedia and maybe we need to reach out to them.

We've got some data now on who is involved and what they are like. But one of the things that I'm interested in is given our limited resources what should our diversity goals look like? What should get priority? So, I've got two examples here for brainstorming:

  • This guy on the left is my father. He is an English speaker, he is able to contribute on the history of American cars which is his hobby: old Corvettes and things like that. He has a Mustang, he's really into it, he's really knowledgeable, he'd like to contribute. I think he would probably not contribute, not just because of the technology problem although that's part of it. Three years ago, he was the guy sending out all caps e-mails. He's gotten better, but he's nowhere near having any interest whatsoever in learning wiki syntax. But is he able to cope with all the rules? Is he going put up with being yelled at if he didn't do things the right way? So, this is an interesting question: should the Foundation focus on someone like him? Should they try and get more participation from older people and people with more informal knowledge?
  • Or, over here, this is a picture from Wikipedia Academy in Johannesberg. These are much more like the traditional Wikipedia volunteers: these are college students, not all of them–I don't know the exact degrees of these three–but many of them are computer science students and they are contributing in Zulu or some other language used in South Africa. Are these the people we should be reaching out to? We could think of our diversity goals as saying this is not a person who is the normal type of Wikipedian, these are Wikipedians who don't necessarily have good access to computers. They haven't really thought about it, they haven't built a community to contribute to in their own language.

And I don't think we really know, we haven't really decided how we're going to move forward there.

So, there's a lot of reasons people don't edit. They don't have time, it's too difficult, someone yelled at me, all these things. That's (the 'yelled at me' one –Transcriber) not on there. And then we, I hope we've all heard of the study recently that shows the proportion of edits that are reverted and that's an interesting question. The question is are we doing a lot more reverting because we're no longer friendly to newcomers or are we reverting more edits because we've become famous and lots more stupid people come and do stupid things. I don't think we really know, and I think the true answer is probably somewhere in the middle. That in the old days the kinds of people who were showing up and editing Wikipedia were very geeky people who sought out the project and wanted to write an encyclopedia. And nowadays, because Wikipedia is very, very famous, lots of people come and have other agendas, and may just be contesting something or whatever. That's part of it.

But I also suspect that we've become a little bit less friendly to newbies than we used to be. We probably need to go back and rethink that and think about policies to deal with that.