Wikipedia loses editors: Crowdsourcing reality check?

The moral of the story: If a product is too hard or frustrating to use, or there are too many barriers to entry, people will turn away

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia built on the backs of a seemingly never-ending supply of free labor, is in a bit of a bind: Many contributors are throwing in the towel. As reported in a page one story in Monday's Wall Street Journal, "unprecedented numbers of the millions of online volunteers who write, edit and police it are quitting." And, the article adds, not enough new blood is coming online to replace the quitters.

While it may be tempting to view this as a failure of the "crowdsourcing" model, the article hints at another issue that has bedeviled software for decades: Barriers to entry increasing to the point where users no longer want to use it. Wikipedia's obscure markup language has always been a turnoff for new contributors, but the introduction of various rules over the years to counteract spam, vandalism, conflicts of interest and other problems has made contributing even minor updates an exercise in frustration. Try linking to a blog containing more information on the subject at hand, or creating an entry for a topic or person that is not yet included in Wikipedia. If the contribution isn't blocked or changed, there's a good chance it will be deleted by overzealous editors who think it's not worthy of inclusion (see "Deletionpedia: Where Wikipedia entries go to die"). The Wall Street Journal notes that dealing with the angry debates over certain articles can wear down even experienced editors. It's not at all surprising that many people simply say, why bother?

But is this situation really much different than the frustrations people encounter with other kinds of software that are difficult to understand or operate, or present other barriers to entry? Marc Benioff's book Behind The Cloud cites an old Gartner research stat that claimed 65% of Siebel licenses were never used. The implication: The Siebel CRM applications were too hard to install and too hard to use, so many people didn't even try.

One doesn't have to look far for other examples. Who in your office has actually figured out how to use the advanced features of Lotus Notes or Microsoft Word? How many people in your circle of friends have given up trying to update their antivirus software or device drivers because the stupid installation disc is nowhere to be found?

The moral of the story: If a product is too hard or frustrating to use, or there are too many barriers to entry, people will turn away -- or turn to something else. Apple's successes with iTunes, the iPod, and now the iPhone are proof that easy-to-use software and hardware not only can attract new users, but also can leave established competitors in the dust. Wikipedia is fortunate in that there isn't any other broadly focused online encyclopedia that offers a better experience for contributions. But if Google figures out a way to supercharge its languishing Knol service -- or Wikipedia's PageRank value declines in Google searches -- there might be an opening for an alternative service to flourish.

Sources and research: Wall Street Journal, Behind The Cloud,

Follow Ian on Twitter at Industry Standard updates and asides are available at and in our newsletters. You can also join our Industry Standard Facebook page and LinkedIn group.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags crowdsourcingwikipedia

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Lamont

The Industry Standard
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?