Jimmy Wales has asserted that Wikipedia is overwhelmingly the work of a fairly small core Wikipedia community. But it seems that’s only true if you count numbers of edits. If you look at content, Aaron Swartz argued, it’s a different story.
When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site — the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it’s the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.
That is perhaps particularly striking in the light of the many complaints I’ve read from academics and other specialists who’ve contributed their knowledge to Wikipedia and then painfully seen their work trampled, chewed over (and sometimes spat out) by people with far less understanding of the subject in question – but far more understanding of how Wikipedia works.
If Swartz is right (and NB that it does appear to be based on a very small sample of pages), then this is a crucial dynamic, and I suspect not just for Wikipedia but for many wikis and similar Web2.0 sites. Which is of particular interest to me right now for reasons that I meant to post about before Christmas and, um, forgot. (Watch this space.)