Who writes Wikipedia?
More specifically, who contributes to the content of an actual Wikipedia page?
Wikipedia says: lots of things boiling down to nothing.
Jimbo Wales says: something like “The idea that a lot of people have of Wikipedia is that it’s some emergent phenomenon — the wisdom of mobs, swarm intelligence, that sort of thing — thousands and thousands of individual users each adding a little bit of content and out of this emerges a coherent body of work. But the truth is rather different: Wikipedia is actually written by a community … a dedicated group of a few hundred volunteers… I know all of them and they all know each other. Really, it’s much like any traditional organization.” (not his actual words, but somewhat close)
However, Aaron Swartz finds out, and describes in an excellent article, that the truth is that
- most of an article’s content is written by occasional Wikipedia contributors most of whose (very few) edits are probably on just that page (and perhaps related ones), and
- most of an article’s edits are made by regular Wikipedia contributors, who probably make minor changes such as formatting.
[After this, Slashdot says: the usual hodepodge of good, bad and funny, as usual. Also, some responses are collected here.]
This makes sense: people good at one particular subject write on Wikipedia on that topic, and people involved in Wikipedia, and aware of its syntax and conventions, make most of the edits. Which is why, if you use “number of edits” as a metric for contributions to Wikipedia (as Wales did), you will find that most of the edits are made by the regulars, a fact that, although true, obscures the equally true fact that most of the content comes from others.
(I don’t mean to say that the “minor fixes” contributors are less important than the others; in fact I’m one of them. :-) )
Offtopic: A random interview.