Wikipedia wants more volunteers

San Francisco - Wikipedia is an indispensable source of knowledge for many internet users - but very few actually take part in building the interactive lexicon.

It has been 11 years since the project was started, but commitment is needed more than ever as the number of active authors is sinking. The Wikimedia Foundation said in its recent annual report that its "most important strategic task is to reverse this trend" and the non-profit organisation is planning to invest heavily in this goal.

Wikipedia is a unique project - an encyclopaedia to which everyone can contribute. Set up by internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, today it is practically the global reference work. The facts about this improbable success are impressive. In May alone, 492 million users called up 18.1 billion pages of the various Wikimedia projects.

But a major factor in the project's success is fading away. Wikipedia is losing volunteers. The number of authors writing at least five times a month dropped to about 85 000 worldwide. And they have a huge task. Some 22.3 million articles in the various Wikipedia versions must be updated, expanded, have pictures added and be protected from vandals - not to mention new articles having to be written. The goal of having 200 000 volunteers by 2015 seems far off.

The Wikipedia Foundation recognises the problem and has begun numerous projects to help stop the drop in volunteers. But implementation will likely take a while.

Problem number 1: The technology. Whoever wants to add or edit an article cannot just click on a button and type away. The texts are written in a syntax that doesn't need a computer science degree but can scare away many users.

That's why Wikimedia Foundation is working on a so-called Visual Editor that makes text editing easier. The principle is what you see is what you get. But Wikimedia are behind schedule. The foundation recently introduced a prototype, but it could still take months before it can be widely used.

Problem number 2: A lack of diversity. Only 10% of volunteers are women and volunteers from the southern hemisphere are also under-represented. The foundation is working on decreasing the gender divide by having at least 50% of the training participants be women. And in some developing and emerging countries, Wikimedia are working with mobile phone providers to make possible free access to the lexicon for smartphone users - Wikipedia Zero.

Problem number 3: The internet is becoming more mobile while Wikipedia is more designed to be used on a PC. The mobile website has since been reworked and there are also smartphone apps. In the future, it should be easier for users to upload photos with mobile devices and manage tasks on the smaller screen.

The foundation is also hiring to reach its goals. The workforce is scheduled to increase this business year from 119 to 174 workers, with expenses increasing from $27.2m to $42.1m. At the same time, the donation-based project wants to increase its income by one-third to $46.1m. The knowledge of the world cannot be collected and maintained for nothing.

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