I have written a long text today (posted in my FB) which the readers of this mailing list might find interesting. I copy it below. I understand that it is very easy to critisize me for side issues, but if you want to comment/reply I would appreciate if you address the main issue. The target audience I was thinking about was general (not necessarily Wikimedia-oriented), and for the readers from this mailing list the first several paragraphs can sound trivial (or even trivial and wrong). I apologize in advance.
Cheers Yaroslav _________________ I currently have a bit of time and can write on the future of Wikipedia. Similarly to much of what I write it is probably going to be useless, but someone may find it interesting. For simplicity, I will be explicitly talking about the English Wikipedia (referring to it as Wikipedia). I am active in other projects as well, and some of them have similar issues, but there are typically many other things going on there which make the picture more complicated. Let us first look at the current situation. Wikipedia exists since 2001, and in a couple of weeks will turn 18. Currently, it has 5.77 million articles. I often hear an opinion that all important articles have already been created. This is incorrect, and I am often the first person to point out that this is not correct. For example, today I created an article on an urban locality in Russia with the population of 15 thousands. Many articles are indeed too short, badly written, or suffer from other issues, and they need to be improved. There are new topics which appear on a regular basis: new music performers, new winners of sports competitions or prizes, and so on. As any Web 2.0 project, Wikipedia requires a regular cleanup, since there are many people happy to vandalize the 5th website in the world in terms of the number of views. However, as a general guideline, it is not so much incorrect to state that all important things in Wikipedia have been already written. Indeed, if someone looks for information in Wikipedia - or, more precisely, uses search engines and gets Wikipedia as the first hit — they are likely to find what they need with more than 99% chance. In this sense, Wikipedia now is very different from Wikipedia in 2008 or Wikipedia in 2004. Ten and especially fifteen years ago, everybody could contribute something important. For example, the article on the 1951 film "A Streetcar Named Desire", which won four Academy Awards, was started in 2005, as well as an article on Cy Twombly, at the time probably the most famous living artist. This is not possible anymore. This is why the number of active editors is currently dropping - to contribute to the content in a meaningful way, one now has to be an advanced amateur - to master some field of knowledge much better than most others do. Or one can be a professional - but there are very few professionals contributing to Wikipedia in their fields, and there are very few articles written at a professional level. Attempts to attract professionals have been made for many years, and, despite certain local success, generally failed. They have been going now for long enough to assume they will never succeed on a large scale. Wikipedia is written by advance amateurs for amateurs. However, despite the decline in the number of editors, there are enough resources to maintain and to expand the project. It does not mean there are no problems - there are in fact many problems. One of the most commonly discussed one is systemic bias - there is way more information on Wikipedia on subjects pertaining to North America than to Africa, and if a topic is viewed on differently in different countries, one can be sure that the American view dominates. But it is usually thought - and I agree with this - that these drawbacks are not crucial, and Wikipedia is atill a useful and sustainable project. Wikipedia clearly has its ecosystem, there are no competitors to talk about, and all attempts to fork it were unsuccessful. There is a steady development, and everybody is happy. Does this mean that everything is fine and we do not need to worry?, just to wait until missing articles get written, or even to help this by writing them ourselves? Absolutely not. To understand this, we can look again at the editor base. There are detailed studies, but, for a starter, it is a nightmare to edit Wikipedia from a cell phone. It is possible but not much easier to edit it from a tablet. The mobile version is different from a desktop one, and it is not really optimized for editing. This is a known problem, but one aspect of it is clear. Most Wikipedia editors actually own a desktop and a laptop. This brings them into 18+ category. There are of course exceptions, but the fact is that the editor base gets older, and this is a problem. The problem is not so much at this point that we all die and there will be nobody to edit Wikipedia. The problem is that the next generation (18-) has very different ways of getting information. And I guess they are not interested in editing Wikipedia, and they will not get interested when they grow up - possibly beyond introducing minor corrections, which can be done from a phone. Traditionally, students were always among the core of the editors base. They already have some knowledge and they still have time to edit. When they graduate, find a job and start a family, they have way less time and typically stop editing. The next group are retirees. Between students and retirees, we have a tiny fraction of dedicated enthusiasts who are ready to take time from work and family, but they are really not numerous. Well, and very soon we are going to lose students as editors. And we should be happy if we do not lose them as readers. I am 51, and I do not know much about the 18- generation, but I know two important things about them. They have a very short attention span and difficulties to concentrate. And they get a graphical and visualized information much more easier than texts. For example, my son is capable of watching three or four movies per day, but he has difficulties to read 20 pages from a book. Well, the first question is whether an encyclopedia is an appropriate / the best format for them to get knowledge (as it is for us). I do not know the answer. What I write below assumes that the answer is positive, otherwise the rest of the text does not make sense. The next question is what should be done. How Wikipedia should look like to be accessible to this generation? The answer seems to be obvious. Articles must be short and contain a lot of graphic information. May be they need to be videoclips. Short clips. Or, at lest, they must contain clips, with more voice and less letters. If one needs more detailed information or just further information - one hops to the next article or watches the next clip. This is a paradigm shift. Currently, the editors generally consider that it is good to have long Wikipedia articles - because long means more complete. Sometimes there are even proposals (fortunately isolated and without followup) to delete all short articles even if they describe notable topics and contain verified information. Clips are almost not in use. Of course they still need to be made, but this is not such a big problem - there are plenty of school students who have their own youtube channel, if they can make clips, everybody can. The most difficult question is how this can be realized. I believe it is not possible to just transform Wikipedia like this - make articles shorter and simpler and spit them. First, this might be good for the young generation, but this is still not good for the 18+ generation. Second, such reforms should be either be approved by Wikipedia community through consensus, or be imposed by the Wikimedia Foundation who owns the project. The likelihood of either is zero. Just to give one argument, the community is, well, the community of editors, of the same 18+ people with laptops who have no difficulties reading long texts. I envision it differently. Ideally, we have the Wikipedia as it is now, but on top of this, every article has a collection of shorter companion articles, simple and a paragraph or two long, so that each of them can be read in half a minute, They should not have excessive markup, references, categories or anything else which can be found in the main article if needed. References in Wikipedia are required not for the sake of having references, but as a means to ensure that the information is verifiable - and if the main article does it the companion articles do not need to. Some of these companion articles can be in fact clips - there is a difficulty that clips can not be edited collaboratively, but I am sure this one can be solved. If anybody wants to solve it. The status of what I have written above is science fiction. I am sure if I come with this proposal to a village pump of Wikipedia, it will be dead within a day. In addition, it requires some modifications of MediaWiki which can only be done by the Foundation. And I am not really looking forward for the Foundation implementing this either. I have a lot of respect for some of the Foundation employees, but it has now grown up into a big corporation now and behaves as a big corporation, where some people care less about the product and more about other things, and some look at Wikipedia editors, aka "unorganized volunteers", as some annoying phenomenon, which they can tolerate but are not willing to listen to. My forecast is pretty pessimistic. Unless a miracle happens (and I currently, at least not from my perspective, do not see any reasons for a miracle to happen), soon or late will realize this, It might be a startup company, or a non-commercial. And Wikipedia will stay as it is, and, after the standards change many times, it will not be readable / accessible to most of internet users, and will slowly die. And the results of what were were doing for 20 years will disappear. This is a usual development and happens to almost every human activity. We know that only a few percents of pieces of Ancient Greek and Roman literature survived until now. Yaroslav Blanter, editor and administrator of the English Wikipedia, 125 000 edits. _______________________________________________ Wikimedia-l mailing list, guidelines at: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mailing_lists/Guidelines and https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia-l New messages to: Wikimediafirstname.lastname@example.org Unsubscribe: https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/wikimedia-l, <mailto:wikimedia-l-requ...@lists.wikimedia.org?subject=unsubscribe>