User:Yair rand/Future of Wikimedia
- There's a lot of repetition on this page, I think. My views probably sound really strange to a lot of people. A lot of this stuff applies largely to English projects. Keep in mind that, on many of these topics, I haven't a clue what I'm talking about.
The English Wikipedia has peaked and begun to decline in amount of participation. The cycle of reach > quality > participation > reach is no longer causing Wikipedia to grow, because the additional factors which feed into it aren't growing. Increasing quality, besides for being dependent on participation, also depends on general community health, areas to improve, the community's ability to work on the higher priorities and see the project as a whole, rather than simply looking at the small parts. Reach, besides for being dependent on quality, also depends on publicity, usability, how the project is viewed, the general usefulness of the project in any form, and there being sufficient audience to grow into. Participation, besides for being dependent on reach, also depends on ease of editing, motivation of the audience to participate, and the existence of areas that clearly need editing. Each individual editor goes through the stages of being the occasional reader who has fixed some small things, the user who occasionally edits, the editor who frequently does lots of edits, and the regular editor who is clearly part of the community. The editor pool as a whole therefore depends on the population of readers, and the frequency of readers going through these stages. Each of these stages loses a large chunk of potential would-be sysops, due to there not being sufficient motivation and ability of the user and insufficient availability of places to edit.
Wikipedia is lacking in many areas that would ordinarily lead to increased editing and readership. The mainstream view of Wikipedia has gone up quite a bit and has started to decline. This is something that would likely be fixed over time, but for now, it is a problem. The community health is slowly going down, the focus of the community isn't doing well, and the general potential audience has been mostly filled out. Ease of editing is not getting better, Wikipedia is no longer clearly needing volunteers, so readers' motivation to edit is declining, and, most importantly, visibility of areas that need help are going down.
The reader-editor transition rate is going down, mainly because it is impaired at certain places. The change from being a reader who has never edited to being an editor, the most important transition, is stuck, since available areas in need of editing aren't as visible, and understanding of Wikipedia is still at the point where many do not know that they can edit it. Right there, most of the potential editors are gone. The other point where there is a sharp loss is the transition from sometimes-editors to frequent editors. This is largely due to the difficulties to starting certain areas needing editing. These trends will become steeper as more easily editable areas are used up, and there is no real way for Wikipedia alone to have a continual easy-edit-spot factory, or any spaces ideal for allowing editors to go deeper. Wikipedia, by itself, is not sustainable as a growing wiki community.
The only way, as I see it, for Wikipedia to maintain a high population and continue growing, is to be surrounded by very large associated sister projects. The sister projects have a very clear potential usefulness, sizable area to grow into, and endless areas in need of simple contributions, something which Wikipedia is lacking. For the most part, the step between reader who has never edited and reader who knows they can edit and has gone to the edit screen and saved is something shared across projects. The later steps of becoming regular editors are also, to a certain extent, shared. An admin on one Wikimedia project will have a relatively easy time of increasing activity on another project. The global Wikimedia community can also share contributors completely in some areas. A Wikipedia surrounded by successful projects will have a far better future than without. (I know I'm being repetitive, but I can't emphasize this point enough.)
Each project has its own cycle of improvement, quality extending reach improving participation increasing quality. Many of these cycles are stuck or slowed, but can be started again and sped up. Wiktionary has a large potential audience and community, but lacks the usability and editability to have stable, fast growth. Wikinews has an enormous potential, but can't get really started until it has a clear point of usefulness. Wikiversity and Wikibooks can grow to be in very widespread use, but haven't made it to the point where the communities can work with the size of the goals. The sister projects can far outgrow Wikipedia's current size, but they need help.
Wiktionary is in need of, most importantly, scripts and Mediawiki extensions. The default display of entries is very difficult to use, so the display will need to be modified by heavy CSS, scripts, and, preferably, MW extensions. The underlying wikitext of Wiktionary's entries is incomprehensible, so it should not be assumed that any readers will start their way into becoming editors by editing the wikitext directly. Rather, they must have scripts that can add their changes to the wikitext for them. (I've been working on some such scripts at wikt:User:Yair rand/Scripts, which I hope will be enabled by default at some point, and Conrad.Irwin has some very useful editing scripts on Wiktionary that are enabled by default.) Wiktionary policies need to be improved, setting stricter layouts for entries, and improving boundaries for what can be included and what can't. The Wiktionary community has developed a culture of strictness of content and policy issues, an acceptance of voting as a decision-making tool, and allowance of somewhat improper editing behaviors. The necessity of having standardization builds need for set policies, which causes voting to be used frequently, often replacing discussions and resulting in bad, difficult-to-reverse decisions. A major problem the community faces is that the separation between areas of content being split by language barriers has made large areas of content entirely dependent on specific individuals. This makes producing good policies and standards for those areas difficult, and also makes individuals pretty much indispensable, which is detrimental to the community's health. As the project expands, these difficulties are likely to diminish. The project also faces a vandalism problem. Most patrolling is handled by a single admin, who, out of necessity, is very quick to revert and block, and rarely is able to explain the problems to newbies. Wiktionary uses tons of templates, many of which need to be continually cleaned up and standardized. (Also, if any code reviewer is reading this, it would be really helpful is someone could review the transliterator extension!) Wiktionary could, eventually, sustain an editor population much larger than en.wiki currently holds. The project has a good potential usefulness, endless editing opportunities, and will be very simple to get into if the technical barriers are eliminated.
Wikinews has, in my opinion, more potential than any other Wikimedia project. News sources are used by everyone, and quick, comprehensive, specialized, and neutral news is hard to find. The problem is, Wikinews does can not really grow until it is at least usable in some area, which right now it isn't. The Wikinews contributors are currently working on trying to support a general news source, and failing at it. Wikinews is not covering enough to be a viable general news source; it simply doesn't have nearly enough contributors for that. Since its usefulness isn't growing, it doesn't have a real audience, and participation really can't grow beyond a small group. "Facts don't cease to be facts, but news ceases to be news." highlights a serious difference between the possible growth of Wikinews contrasted with the growth of any other project. Wikinews content doesn't grow over time; the only thing usable to readers is content that was created recently, or really, a stream of content that was created recently.
How Wikinews could grow would be if there was a small group running a usable Wikinews portal with a manageable focus. Such a portal could gather an audience, grow, and expand outward in scope, the community pushing into other maintainable portals over a while. But first, there needs to be such a group: One option would be a Wikiproject from elsewhere in Wikimedia deciding to work to fully maintain a portal. Another possibility would be for a Wikimedia chapter to work to build and maintain a portal covering a geographic area, perhaps also purchasing a domain to redirect to the Wikinews portal, and advertising in the area. (One specific idea I had was to start a video games portal, try to recruit some WP:VG members, see if any of the cross-wiki-editing 'pedians who would understand that this could be a big deal would help, get a bunch of articles published, and then send messages around NIWA to see if there could be a group from there to help out, and then advertise across the gamer communities to really bring up the size of the audience, and see if the entire thing explodes into a massive community going into other areas and building Wikinews into the largest wiki in existence in less than a year. I think the subject of video games would work rather well for this, for a number of reasons: there are a large number of existing Wikimedians who really can work on it, gamers in general are really the kind of people who would see something like a collaborative news source and help, smaller-scale collaborative gaming works have been successful on the internet in the past, and video games is a topic the expands quite easilt into other topics. But I could see why many people would see the idea as being problematic; the topic itself has a very unprofessional nature, and it could really harm long-term success if everything has expanded from a center of games.) Some obstacles exist along the way to even starting a portal: the designing process for what portals should look like isn't finished, and MakeLead by Bawolff doesn't work for portals yet. I suspect that when Wikinews does start to really grow, its growth will be explosive. The project depends entirely on what has been added recently.
I suspect my view of the future of Wikiversity goes pretty far from how most people see it, but here it is: Wikiversity can really be the backbone of all of Wikimedia, and the center of all learning. Wikiversity can have "learning groups" as the core of all user-generated content within a specific area, teaching, learning, and improving everyone's understanding of the group's topic. It could provide reference desks, piles of learning materials and resources, and also become the base of Wikimedia-wide (and beyond) "Wikiprojects". It could itself replace Meta, and Wikiprojects across Wikimedia. To accomplish this, it will need a strong integration with the rest of Wikimedia, as well as a very decentralized group structure (few policies, no standards, each group up to themselves). I haven't been following Wikiversity at all, and know very little about it, but from the basic idea I gather it could become extremely important to the world, as soon as Wikimedia realizes what it's for and the technical barriers between Wikimedia projects have been dealt with.
Wikibooks is similar to Wikipedia in some ways, but very different in others. The style of content, the progression of improvement and expansion of content and quality, and the uses are very much the same, but Wikibooks has much larger units of content, making its growth very different. An individual book requires either a sizable group/community putting in a lot of time, or an individual putting in a very large amount of effort. The latter produces comparatively low-quality books, but the style of having passing contributors add bits and pieces with no core group or person, comes out mostly unusable. In order for Wikibooks to produce lots of high-quality books and expand its audience, it either needs external communities (probably from Wikiversity long-term, possibly from Wikipedia or outside Wikimedia shorter-term) to support the individual books, and have them as major missions for the communities, or internal communities, built entirely around the books themselves. (The latter sounds much more difficult, IMO.) Right now, Wikibooks is in need of some technical help to make the project be more book-like (a real page system, for example, and titles that don't look ridiculous) and less like a badly modified Wikipedia. Wikibooks has a pretty healthy community, but isn't making all that much progress yet. Wikibooks has a decent amount of potential, probably about the same amount as Wikipedia, but it will be a lot harder to get it there.
Commons and Wikisource
These projects are very different from the others: instead of hosting communities collaborating to produce chunks of content, these are simply repositories of content (I know there are small-scale exceptions, but the projects are pretty much centered around gathering and collecting, rather than collaboratively improving). The growth path of these are probably very different than that of the other Wikimedia projects. Apart from a few usability improvements I can't think of any real way to accelerate the growth of these projects. I don't know if either of these can really have a large "community" in the way other projects have them. There will be groups of people working on the projects, building them up, certainly, but I don't know if they can ever really form a large community. Commons needs a simpler uploading process and Wikisource needs some cross-wiki noticability.
Wikispecies and Wikiquote
These projects don't have all that much potential, in my opinion, as most people don't need to frequently make use of species directories or quotations collections. They will probably grow a significant amount once Wikimedia has grown beyond being over-focused on Wikipedia, but not end up all that large.
Some major obstacles to getting anything done:
- There needs to be an option for cross-wiki watchlists. Seriously.
- A global template repository will very important. Not to be used all over the place, only in things that are clearly global.
- Foundation support for the sister projects. Read: Bug fixes.
- Emphasis on Wikipedia being part of the Wikimedia movement. It will not be the sum of all knowledge. It will be an important resource, and very important in advancing the goal of allowing everyone to share in the sum of all knowledge.
After a while, the Wikimedia foundation itself will need to hold a much smaller role in the Wikimedia movement (well probably larger in absolute size, but much smaller relative to the rest of Wikimedia), and the movement will need to move beyond the foundation. Someday we will probably have "Wikimedia projects" not hosted by WMF, and independent entities that hold the same goals and values as we do will be considered as part of Wikimedia. Collaboration to support sharing of knowledge, openness and transparency, noncommercial groups and communities in good faith collaboration, and the open, trusting nature of the "anyone can edit" idea, all will be what makes Wikimedia Wikimedia. (I also suspect that at some point wikitext - square brackets to link, etc. - will really be an icon of being Wikimedian, despite it being used elsewhere.) Wikimedia needs to prepare for other groups helping advance the goal, and not keep everything inside. We'll need methods of easily allowing projects to use Wikimedia-hosted files, and to have logins that work across wikis. We will need to be open to the world.
Right now, though, we need to be expanding the focus past our flagship project. Wikipedia alone cannot be sustained. The effects of any loss of anonymous occasional typo-fixers will not be visible until those editors would have otherwise made it to adminship, years away; the loss of potential editors never even making it to occasional typo-fixers even longer. The filling out of Wikipedia needs to be remedied before there are no longer enough Wikipedians to as effectively help push forward the rest of Wikimedia. Wikipedians need to expand their editing across projects in order to build Wikimedia's future. The most helpful edits you can make are those all around Wikimedia.
Wikipedia can not, long term, be the sole real major project of Wikimedia. It can't work. Alone, it will decline, stagnate, fall. With Wikimedia together, Wikipedia will thrive among the growing movement.