An encyclopedia and the institution of the academic library, actually.
As the graph shows, while the number of active editors shot up from 2005, the retention rate of editors, those who are still active a year later, shot down. So there are more editors, but they quit editing earlier. Which in turn means that you have a hard core of longterm, dyed in the wool editors who know how to game the system and a much larger mass of people who discover Wikipedia, start editing and usually drop out in a couple of months, either because they lose interest or because they’re driven out by the hardcore. Editing Wikipedia is not fun anymore.
Three reasons for this is: notability, verification and rules lawyering in general. It used to be that Wikipedia culture was fairly tolerant of people following their own interests, putting up entries on lesser known webcomics say and appreciated their efforts. But just when Wikipedia really took off, in 2005-2006, the rules started to change and anything that couldn’t be found in the Encyclopedia Brittannica was suddenly not noticable enough to be in Wikipedia either. The balance in Wikipedia culture switched over from erring on the side of inclusiveness to “when in doubt, delete” — with quite a few editors seeing it as a holy mission to get rid of “fancruft”, insulting and alienating just those people who would’ve made good recruits.
At the same time, responding to a couple of scandals (some more so than others), editing existing articles became harder as well, as verification became the magic word. Every fact had to be verified, linked to some source that proclaimed its truth. It’s not an unreasonable rule, it’s the way it has been used that’s the problem. Too often new editors have had their their heads bitten off for innocently adding facts without verification, or using “suspect” sources, or for using sources not easily verificable or for just happening to disagree with a particular editor’s hobby horse. And verification, like notability is also increasingly used in editor fights, as disagreeing editors nitpick each other’s editors.
I would like this to be corrected. I still resent the disappearance of Wikipedia’s page on soc.history.what-if.
Not only have a lot of people who re-tweeted the post, but we are also collectively re-tweeting it as if it is focused on the the good things in our field – that we value information literacy. Of course we value information literacy. But The Chronicle’s article is actually troubling because it explains plainly that many of our peers in academia don’t understand the value our work in teaching and learning. And it’s even more troubling that we are re-tweeting the article as if it shines a glowing light on our work in the academy when many people don’t know what we do, how we do it, and why.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure how to write up my thoughts right now. On the one hand, I want to comment on the fact that we value our work but that not everyone else does. But on the other hand, I’m compelled to talk about way we’re re-tweeting this article as if it says good things about our work. I admit it – I could be quibbling since The Chronicle did report on some good things, after all. But I still think we should spend more of our energy thinking about ways to shrink that 37% difference of opinion on the librarian’s role in teaching and learning as opposed to giving ourselves a pat on the back and calling it a day. This isn’t about talking about ways to just get in to the classroom. It’s about convincing the other 40% of teaching faculty (and that 3% of library directors) that we actually do make a difference.
Go, read them both.