Jimmy Wales, the iconoclastic founder of Wikipedia, made a troubling announcement at the seventh annual Wikipedia conference: Nobody wants to edit Wikipedia anymore. Is Wikipedia going to shrivel up and fade away?
Wales told the AP that the number of Wikipedia editors is slowly dwindling. "We are not replenishing our ranks," he said, "it is not a crisis, but I consider it to be important." According to Wales a lot of the core Wikipedians have simply aged out, got married and found that they have better things to do with their time. Previous rumors of Wikipedias demise have focused on a lack of any new stuff to add; but this seems like a real existential threat.
Wikipedia needs to get cool again, somehow. When Wikipedia launched in the early naughts it was attractively subversive—it pissed off your teachers, journalists and any square over 40, basically. Idealistic young nerds flocked to the site with that early web 2.0 communitarian fervor. But new editors aren't showing up at the same rate. After years at the top result on practically every Google search, Wikipedia has lost its urgency. Kids who were in 8th grade in 2004 have gone through their entire high school and college careers consulting (i.e. plagiarizing) Wikipedia; to them, Wikipedia is a dull black box—editing it seems just a bit more possible than making revisions to Pride and Prejudice.
And Twitter and Facebook have sucked up all the cognitive surplus younger internet users might have once devoted to building up Wikipedia and shattered it into a million fleeting hashtags. Wikipedia should try to somehow harness the new fickle hive mind: Remember when hordes of Beliebers descended on Esperanza Spalding's Wikipedia page and ravaged it after she beat out Justin Bieber for the Grammy? All you've got to do is get 15-year-old girls as interested in, say, Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Good luck with that, Jimmy Wales!
[Image if IV via Shutterstock. Image of Wales via AP.]