As a poster-child of the Web2.0 success story, Wikipedia has grown from a small but thriving community of volunteers into one of the most well-used online resources there is. But that community-driven character could be Wikipedia’s doom, according to professor of law Eric Goldman – and he thinks the rot has long since set in.
Now, the editors themselves discourage the contributions of others through “xenophobia” toward outsiders; Goldman believes that they see “threats” everywhere and points out that the greater part of all edits made to the site are actually reverted by these editors.
In addition, plenty of political jockeying takes place among editors. And editors have few incentives for their work—no way to make money, no real way even to earn attribution. Together, these problems mean that as editors get burned out by patrolling for spam and vandalism, fewer new people will be interested in stepping up to plug the gap.
Of course, there’s probably plenty of people who would like to slap a whole bunch of  links all over Goldman’s theory. But what he’s describing seems to be the same sort of institutional breakdown that can be observed in communities, political movements and any other human group effort.
Perhaps it’s the case that Wikipedia has grown too quickly for its culture to evolve affective coping strategies; maybe smaller subject-specific communities would be more resilient? But then again, maybe they’d just become more cultish more quickly, as has the Church of Darwin.
One thought on “Why Wikipedia is (apparently) doomed to fail”
Don’t feel bad, Paul — we all do it sometimes.
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