Thursday, August 13, 2009


When I saw the graph on the front of today's technology Guardian, in an article about the slowing growth of Wikipedia (it's not in the online version), I thought: "That looks like a logistic growth curve. Perhaps the sum total of knowledge represents a resource that is being exhausted, causing the encyclopedia's growth to slow".

When I got to the end of the article, I discovered that the researcher behind the work being discussed, Ed Chi of PARC, had a similar thought.

"In my experience, the only thing we've seen these growth patterns [in] before is in population growth studies – where there's some sort of resource constraint that results in this model." The site, he suggests, is becoming like a community where resources have started to run out. "As you run out of food, people start competing for that food, and that results in a slowdown in population growth and means that the stronger, more well-adapted part of the population starts to have more power."

But the article also says that the slowdown is caused by a shift in power towards 'deletionist' editors - it's getting harder to get stuff onto Wikipedia. Which suggests that the correct model might not be a sort of density-dependent, resource-limited population (we're running out of stuff to create wikipedia entries about), but perhaps something more top-down, like a predator-prey system (the editor population is keeping the contributor population in check).

I've no idea, but it's a question entirely suitable to the tools of ecological analysis. Someone should get onto it.


Dorothea said...

"we're running out of stuff to create wikipedia entries about"

Are we? Really?

I think that this is not the whole case. Who is this "we" after all. Surely the pool of people willing and able to contribute articles to Wikipedia is actually quite small, and drawn from quite a narrow ethnic and cultural spectrum? It is this small group's stock of experience and knowledge of the world which is running out.

Just in our recent Western culture, here in England, simply reading the small number of (older) books that I can access, I am constantly coming across entities (people, organisations, places and so on) that have no Wikipedia reference. Allow for the huge biocultural diversity that exists and extrapolate this globally and we would find that there are still vast untapped reservoirs of un-Wiki'd information out there.

dokebi said...

wither Wikipedia?