Wikipedia – Jumped the Shark?

An interesting piece of research on Wikipedia shows that the growth rate is slowing. This doesn’t surprise me much. Even though I’m not a contributor (I have made a few corrections to spelling, grammar and sentence construction, but have never added any substantial content) I have watched the site as it went from a free for all into a very tightly controlled hierarchy of user classes.

In the beginning the Wikipedia pretty much accepted anything and edit wars were common. The rapid growth rate reflected the lack of content and the free wheeling nature of the site. Now that many topic areas are staked out with reasonable articles the remaining articles to add become more and more fringe. Yet, the notability requirements combined with the systematic elimination of some types of content have excluded those fringe articles. Put simply, the growth rate had to slow because of a combination of the major topics being covered and the fringe being rejected as valid content. There are many “specialty” wikis out there now that cover topics excluded from Wikipedia proper. Interestingly, many of these are hosted by Wikia, the for profit company formed by the founder of Wikipedia. Using advertising to generate revenue, Wikia has become the default home for articles that are not “notable” enough for the main Wikipedia.

I think that the compromise reached is a reasonable one. Wikipedia serves the purpose it set out to fulfill: an Encyclopedia. The “of Everything” part simply has been fractured so cultural trivia helps pay the bills while the “meat” of a traditional encyclopedia is subsidized by the trivia. To this end it makes sense that the notability guidelines for the main Wikipedia keep getting tightened and more content is displaced to the Wikia side of the fence. As long as items traditionally found in encyclopedias don’t get the boot it seems that everyone has a way to have their cake and eat it too.

Has Wikipedia jumped the shark. No, I don’t think so… it simply has evolved into something new. If Wikipedia were to stop growing today it would be an amazing achievement. As long as new content of true notability continues to appear, old content evolves as our understanding expands and there are reasonable alternatives for fringe content it serves well enough for me.

Of course, remember to check those sources: like a traditional Encyclopedia it is a jumping off point to knowledge, not knowledge itself.