A new data set on Wikipedia edits and new article creation is being breathlessly touted as a sign that Wikipedia has reached its peak and is pointed toward inevitable decline. I think the biggest problem with Wikipedia is that it draws out amateur criticism and analysis. First off, it’s not like Wikipedia statistics are hidden away in an archive in Tibet, written in a mysterious Fujian script–it’s all publically available. Which begs the question, why is the state of Wikipedia in 2006 somehow today’s news? Shouldn’t we have been bludgeoned by “Wikipedia is Peaking!!!” articles three years ago?
But more troubling is the almost childlike understanding of the nature of knowledge that Wikipedia lays bare to the world. In an interview with NPR back when Wikipedia was peaking, I pointed out that the reason why the George W. Bush page was constantly being changed on Wikipedia was because our conception of Dubya was still in flux and that Wikipedia was accurately representing that flux. That’s not a brilliant observation on my part, and any undergraduate studying philosophy should be able to provide that answer, just like they should be able to tell you that, naturally, the recording of knowledge-based content will not continue at a geometric pace when measured by article creation. There aren’t any more counties, cities and chemicals to describe. All the major buildings, wars and sports teams have their page already. If article growth on Wikipedia continued apace, and editing continued apace, it would mean that the actual creation (As opposed to the recording) of knowledge content was accelerating at Gaussian proportions or that Wikipedia had lost its focus on describing knowledge and fallen into accepting fluff content pages (Which, with all the Simpsons Episode pages will tell you, is always a danger) simply to maintain some arbitrary measurement of size.
Still, it’d be nice to see Brittanica win one. I always root for the underdog.