Few female editors on Wikipedia, study finds | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 28.03.2011
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Few female editors on Wikipedia, study finds

Wikipedia faces a decline in the number of new editors and are taking on the challenge by trying to attract women, older people and editors from the developing world.

Wikipedia editors

Wikipedia editors recently met in Berlin

Wikipedia, with its detailed entries on topics ranging from Star Trek episodes to Sanskrit, has become the first online, crowd-sourced and free encyclopedia used by millions around the world.

However, a decade on from their launch in 2001, the organization faces real challenges in maintaining a vibrant community of volunteer editors who take the time to keep the pages up to date and accurate.

In particular, a study commissioned by the organization that runs Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation, has shown that the community is losing editors faster than they can be recruited and furthermore that editors that join more recently are less likely to stay active as the established editors.

The Editor Trends Study was completed on March 10, and was presented at an international Wikimedia Conference in Berlin held this past weekend, March 25 to 27.

The study analyzed data from the five major Wikipedia languages, English, French, German, Russian and Japanese, although it focused most strongly on the English site, which remains the biggest.

However, many of the trends are also relevant to other languages and representatives from 34 countries met in Berlin to try and come up with solutions to these problems.

Far more men than women edit Wikipedia

In 10 years, Wikipedia has compiled 18 million articles in all languages

In 10 years, Wikipedia has compiled 18 million articles in all languages

It has been known for some time that there is a real imbalance between the sexes when it comes to playing an active role writing and editing pages on Wikipedia.

Recent figures show that only 12.5 percent of Wikipedia's editors are women, which puts a bias in the way issues are covered and also which subjects feature on the site.

"We have around 800 people that have registered accounts from Chile, (however) we only have one active member of the chapter who is female," said Osmar Valdebenito, a Wikipedia editor, or Wikipedian, from Chile. "It's kind of difficult to establish a female vision about Wikipedia."

Valdebenito added that it may be a trend in participation in a whole range of sites and not Wikipedia alone, but others have different theories and possible solutions.

Maushira Elamrawry, a Wikipedian from Egypt, who thinks that female editors could play a personal role, introducing Wikipedia to their friends and people within their network.

"As a woman (we could) try to at least talk to each other and reach out to each other and try to figure out what the problems and probably to introduce Wikipedia to more of our friends," she told Deutsche Welle.

She added that the Wikimedia organization also needs to formulate some international initiatives also, saying "[the site] needs more effort on a macro level, not only the micro level."

By way of example, Elamrawry sited an intiative on the Russian site where the editor interface addresses male editors differently to female editors, in keeping with linguistic peculiarities in Russian.

"So it you're a women, it's talking to you as woman and if you're guy then it's talking to you as a guy," she explained.

Attempts to attract older Wikipedians

Jimmy Wales von Wikipedia mit Laptop, Symbolbild Interaktiv

Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales (pictured), when he was in his early 30s

There are also measures being taken to attract retirees to become involved in the Wikipedia editing process, as the study found that editors skew not only toward men, but toward younger men in their 20s and 30s.

"We have an initiative here in Germany where we try to encourage older people, who are retired already, to share their knowledge which they have accumulated over their whole career and to share within Wikipedia," said Pavel Richter, the executive director of Wikimedia Germany.

This is also part of the attempts to broaden the demographic of people contributing to Wikipedia and as such, broaden its tone and focus.

"Older people have a different viewpoint a different set of know how to younger people," Richter told Deutsche Welle.

Naturally, the technical challenges some older people may face in learning how to use the Wikipedia site may prove an obstacle and Wikimedia are taking steps to changing the editing process to make it easier to use and a more visually-based system.

Wikipedia and the developing world

The study also showed that over 80 percent of Wikipedia editors also come from the developed world and some strategies are being formulated to attract editors from the Global South.

"We hope to generate locally relevant material, relevant to our daily life, that's what really matters," said Oscar Limoke, a Kenyan Wikipedian, who added that Wikipedia needs to keep a local focus to the pages in Africa to attract both readers and editors.

Working both on the English and Swahali sites from Kenya, Limoke is also trying to collect non-written material, photos and video, for use on the site so it can be used by communities with low literacy levels.

"We are closer to getting more people involved," he said "At the moment we are working with the Kenyan Government on a project to create media and pictures for the use in the Wikipedia, so we hope to reach a larger audience."

Author: Jonathan Gifford, Berlin
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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