Business, Media

Where are Wikipedia’s women?

By Rebecca Davis 19 August 2011

Wikipedia needs women. Anyone can edit the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia, but recent research suggests that less than 15% of extant editors are female. By REBECCA DAVIS.

At Wikipedia’s recent annual conference, co-founder Jimmy Wales profiled the average Wikipedia editor as being a 26-year-old male with a PhD. As a result, Wikipedia is thin on specific women-focused areas: biographies of famous women, for instance. Wikipedia is trying to change this. Wales has issued an open appeal for women to join the project, looking to recruit 5,000 more active contributors by next June, the bulk of which they hope will be female.

It’s not clear why Wikipedia would suffer from this kind of gender imbalance when other crowd-sourced information sites, like Yelp, do not. The Guardian speculates that potential female editors are deterred by “an aggressive, rather protective community with a clear hierarchy”.

If Wikipedia was able to provide comprehensive coverage of the kinds of women’s interest areas that are currently lacking, though, would it really matter that it was largely men who were producing it? Justine Cassell, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, suggests it does matter very much. Blogging for The New York Times, she makes the point that a gender imbalance on Wikipedia undermines its central tenet: “the democracy that Wikipedia aspires to may in fact ignore the voices of 50% of the population”.

Some would say women are just sensible to stay out of some of the insanely arcane editing disputes that rage through Wikipedia. Check out this infographic about Wikipedia’s lamest edit wars, http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/wikipedia-lamest-edit-wars/ recording the number of arguments over, for instance, whether ‘hummus’ should be categorised as ‘Israeli cuisine’ or whether it’s another cultural appropriation from the Arabs. Perhaps the women are happy to leave squabbling over hummus to the boys and just get on with, well, living. DM



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