Volunteers who maintain Wikipedia are quitting in droves, burnt out from the stress of maintaining the free online encyclopedia.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the site has seen a net loss of 49,000 editors during the first three months of the year, 10 times the net loss of 4,900 during the same period a year earlier. Wikipedia officials, however, told the paper that they still have enough people to get the work done.
This drop-off in enthusiasm for the site could lead to more errors or deliberate distortions, such as when comic Stephen Colbert exploited Wikipedia's weaknesses a few years ago and "vandalized" information about himself, George Washington and elephants while on the air.
Many Wikipedia users do not seem to question whether the information they get could be wrong or biased. They accept it as fact without cross-checking other sources. Wikipedia gets about 325 million unique visitors a month, making it the fifth most-visited site on the Web. The number of visitors to the site grew 20% in the 12 months ending in September, according to comScore Media Metrix cited by the Journal.
Apparently, the stress involved in maintaining this endeavor is enormous. "Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again," Spanish researcher Felipe Ortega told the Journal. A spokesman for the Wikipedia Foundation could not be reached for comment.
Moreover, given the state of the economy, many can no longer afford to pursue time-consuming hobbies such as editing Wikipedia articles. Participating in Wikipedia also can be a gigantic hassle because of the site's many rules -- which newcomers often unknowingly break, according to the Journal.
What it all comes down to is whether people can trust "Crowd Sourcing." While it sounds great in theory to make everyone an expert, the fact is that not everyone knows what they are talking about. The online encyclopedia has published its share of whoppers.
Wikipedia accidentally killed off Sen. Robert Byrd a few months ago. He is still alive and recently celebrated becoming the longest tenured member of Congress. The site also bumped off Sen. Ted Kennedy several months before he succumbed to brain cancer, and posted the accidentally released obituary of Steve Jobs. Journalist John Seigenthaler was falsely implicated in the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy.
As the case of Wikipedia shows, the Internet is not a great marketplace of ideas. It's a deli or a 7-Eleven. Everyone now feels entitled to their opinions. Whether they have done one whit of research does not seem to matter.
The lesson of Wikipedia is the lesson mothers teach their young children: Don't believe everything that you read.
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