Wikipedia’s “completely chaotic model” of content development may be both the website’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The crowdsourcing method of information gathering—like “citizen journalism”—relies on ordinary “non-expert” people sharing their knowledge. It’s wildly democratic, but also wildly uncontrolled. As Virginia Postrel writes in “Who Killed Wikipedia?,” Wikipedia’s “very existence is something of a miracle.” With millions of entries, in hundreds of languages, edited by thousands of volunteers—the exact numbers vary depending on which source one selects—Wikipedia is the most popular source of information in the world. But what happens if the volunteers lose interest? Can Wikipedia, as Andrew Lih asks, survive?
In my opinion, the answer is yes: the amount of information already available on the site is enormous and invaluable. It might not expand as rapidly in the future as it has in the past—many topics are already thoroughly explored and the articles can stand as written—but the reports of its death are exaggerated. In a sense, it may be not too big, but too open to fail. Someone, many someones, will step in to save it.
That said, I do think Wikipedia is going to have to make some changes in its structure and processes. Here are just a few:
- The organizational culture is rigid and insular. As Postrel argues, it’s “a culture that worked brilliantly until it devolved from dynamism to sclerosis.”
- Smartphones, as Lih points out, have been overtaking laptop and desktop computers, and Wikipedia is hard to edit on phone screens. Better editing software and mobile phone hardware will have to be developed.
- The coverage is skewed, reflecting the interests and obsessions of the editors: “its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy.”
- It’s too easy for editors to slip in misinformation and even hoaxes, including the famous charge that journalist John Siegenthaler had been a suspect in the assassinations of both President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy.
- Wikipedia is demonstrably sexist. As The New York Times noted in 2011, fewer than 15 percent of the site’s hundreds of thousands of contributors are women. And as the novelist Amanda Filipacchi noted in 2013, also in the Times, Wikipedia editors had been moving American women writers out of the category “American Novelists” and into a new subcategory, “American Women Novelists,” making “American Novelists” all male.
- The editors sometimes operate like a gang, retaliating against perceived “enemies.” As soon as Filipacchi published her complaint, editors—in a process the online magazine Salon called “revenge editing”—pounced on the page about her, erasing much of the content and most of the links.
None of this means that Wikipedia is dying: I—and millions of other people worldwide—love the site, at least as a starting point for research. But it may mean that its “completely chaotic model” needs to become not quite completely chaotic. As NPR argued in 2012, “what Wikipedia really needs today is more administrators—discerning editors to keep the collaborative encyclopedia that anyone can edit a reliable source without errors.” We need both the many cacophonous voices of citizen journalism and the professional editors of The New York Times.
Wikipedia is an unruly teenager today. It’s alive and well—but it may have to grow up.
 See Jay Rosen, PressThink, “A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism,” 14 July 2008; http://archive.pressthink.org/2008/07/14/a_most_useful_d.html.
 Sarah Silbert, “You Can Now Edit Articles, View Random Pages on the Android Wikipedia App,” engadget, 25 June 2014; http://www.engadget.com/2014/06/25/new-wikipedia-app-android/.
 Tom Simonite, “The Decline of Wikipedia,” MIT Technology Review, 22 October 2013; http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520446/the-decline-of-wikipedia/.
 Jon Brodkin, “The 10 Biggest Hoaxes in Wikipedia’s First 10 Years,” Network World, 14 January 2011; http://www.networkworld.com/article/2198816/software/the-10-biggest-hoaxes-in-wikipedia-s-first-10-years.html.
Katharine Q. Seelye, “Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar,” The New York Times, 4 December 2005; http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/weekinreview/snared-in-the-web-of-a-wikipedia-liar.html.
 Noam Cohen, “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List,” The New York Times, 30 January 2011; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/business/media/31link.html.
 Amanda Filipacchi, “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists,” The New York Times, 24 April 2013; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/wikipedias-sexism-toward-female-novelists.html?_r=0.
 Hansi Lo Wang, “As Wikipedia Gets Pickier, Editors Become Harder to Find,” all tech considered, NPR, 19 July 2012; http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/07/19/157056694/as-wikipedia-gets-pickier-editors-become-harder-to-find.