It was as much a geek-gathering — that celebrated the wonders of the world’s most famous online encyclopaedia — as it was an occasion for Wikipedia’s founders and supporters to reflect on why it had failed to keep up with the social media revolution of the late 2000s, led by Twitter and Facebook.
Wikimania 2012, which was held in the nation’s capital over the past week, saw Wiki contributors from over 87 countries congregate at George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom campus, a stone’s throw away from the State Department.
A festive air permeated the venue of the meet as founder Jimmy Wales touted the English Wikipedia adding its four millionth article to its online database — an entry on Izbat Al Burj, a coastal city situated on the northern coast of Egypt. A “hackathon” added colour to the technical sessions.
Yet the event also saw the supporters of the website grapple with profound questions on its fundamental structure and purpose. A major topic for soul-searching was: Why Wikipedia had not ridden the social media wave? Also discussed was the specific complaint that the site was no longer as welcoming to new users as it used to be.
In an interview Mr. Wales said, “It’s time for us to update... One thing we always want to look at carefully is the tone and the health of the community to make sure we continue to be welcoming and that people aren’t put off when they make their first edit.”
While the site continues to retain its grass-roots focus on individual contributions for articles, in parallel this has called for a tough fight to maintain its non-profit status on the back of efforts to fund-raise from donors. According to the site’s managing agency, the Wikimedia Foundation, it has collected more than $22 million from supporters in its latest donations drive.
However, there is likely to be a continuing search for Wikipedia’s soul, a struggle most recently manifested in an impassioned debate on a Wiki-entry about the wedding dress of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Following an audience question on whether there was a growing gender gap among Wikipedia’s contributors, Mr. Wales suggested in his address at Wikimania that a number of users did not see the value of the more female-friendly articles such as the one on Ms. Middletion’s dress.