Predictions of the end of Wikipedia

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"Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?", a 2017 discussion between academic Yochai Benkler and Wikimedia Foundation executive director Katherine Maher

Various publications and commentators have offered a range of predictions of the end of Wikipedia. As soon as Wikipedia became well-known—around 2005—one scenario of decline after another has appeared, based on various assumptions and allegations. For example, some claim a degradation in quality of Wikipedia's articles, while others say potential editors are turning away. Others suggest that disagreements within the Wikipedia community will lead to the collapse of Wikipedia as a project.

Some predictions present a criticism of Wikipedia as a fatal flaw, and some go on to predict that a rival website will do what Wikipedia does, but without that fatal flaw. This would make it a Wikipedia-killer, capturing the attention and resources which Wikipedia currently gets. Many online encyclopedias exist; proposed replacements for Wikipedia have included Google's since-closed Knol,[1][2] WolframAlpha,[3] and AOL's since-closed Owl.[4]

However, contrary to these predictions, Wikipedia has been constantly growing in both size and influence.[5][6][7][8]


Some critics cite specific hoaxes, errors, propaganda and other poor content, and assert that the lack of good content will lead to people finding better content elsewhere.[9][10]

Wikipedia is crowdsourced by a few million volunteer editors. Tens of thousands contribute the majority of contents, and several thousand do quality control and maintenance work. As the encyclopedia expanded in the 2010s, the number of active editors did not steadily grow and sometimes declined. Various sources have predicted that Wikipedia will eventually have too few editors to be functional and collapse from lack of participation.[9][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Wikipedia has 910 volunteer administrators who perform various functions, including functions similar to those carried out by a forum moderator. Critics have described their actions as harsh, bureaucratic, biased, unfair, or capricious, and predicted that the resulting outrage will lead to the site's closure.[9][17][18] Some such critics are aware of the duties of administrators; others merely assume they govern the site.

Various 2012 articles reported that a decline in English Wikipedia's recruitment of new administrators could end Wikipedia.[19][20]

Others suggest that the unwarranted deletion of useful articles from Wikipedia may portend its end. That brought about the creation of Deletionpedia, which itself ceased to exist in 2008 and was relaunched in 2013.[21][22]

Decline in editors[edit]

English Wikipedia editors with >100 edits per month[23]

A 2014 trend analysis published in The Economist stated that "The number of editors for the English-language version has fallen by a third in seven years."[24] The attrition rate for active editors in English Wikipedia was described by The Economist as substantially higher than in other languages (non-English Wikipedias). It reported that in other languages, the number of "active editors" (those with at least five edits per month) has been relatively constant since 2008: some 42,000 editors, with narrow seasonal variances of about 2,000 editors up or down.

In the English Wikipedia, the number of active editors peaked in 2007 at about 50,000 editors, and fell to 30,000 editors in 2014.[24] A linear decline at this rate would leave no active editors of English Wikipedia by 2025.

Given that the trend analysis published in The Economist presented the number of active editors for Wikipedia in other languages (non-English Wikipedia) as remaining relatively constant, sustaining their numbers at approximately 42,000 active editors, the contrast pointed to the effectiveness of Wikipedia in those languages to retain their active editors on a renewable and sustained basis.[24] Though different language versions of Wikipedia have different policies, no comment identified a particular policy difference as potentially making a difference in the rate of editor attrition for English Wikipedia.[25] Editor count showed a slight uptick a year later, and no clear trend after that.

In a 2013 article, Tom Simonite of MIT Technology Review said that for several years running the number of Wikipedia editors had been falling and claimed the bureaucratic structure and rules are a factor in this. Simonite alleged that some Wikipedians use the labyrinthine rules and guidelines to dominate others and have a vested interest in keeping the status quo.[26] A January 2016 article in Time by Chris Wilson said Wikipedia might lose many editors because a collaboration of occasional editors and smart software will take the lead.[27]

Andrew Lih and Andrew Brown both maintain editing Wikipedia with smartphones is difficult and discourages new potential contributors.[11][14] Lih alleges there is serious disagreement among existing contributors how to resolve this. Lih fears for Wikipedia's long-term future while Brown fears problems with Wikipedia will remain and rival encyclopedias will not replace it.[11][14]

Sources of viewers and funds[edit]

As of 2015, there had been a marked decline in persons who viewed Wikipedia from their computers, and according to The Washington Post "on their phones...[people are] far less likely to donate".[28] At the time, the Wikimedia Foundation reported reserves equivalent to one year's budgeted expenditures. On the other hand, the number of paid staff had ballooned, so those expenses increased.[28]

Timeline of predictions[edit]

In the fall of 2020, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia, associate professor of the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University Joseph Reagle conducted a retrospective study of numerous "predictions of the ends of Wikipedia" that took place in these 20 years.

He divided the waves of predictions into periods: "Early growth (2001–2002)", "Nascent identity (2001–2005)", "Production model (2005–2010)", "Contributor attrition (2009–2017)" and the current period "(2020–)". Each of these periods brought its own distinctive fatal predictions, which never came true. As a result, Joseph Reagle is firmly convinced that Wikipedia is not in danger.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helft, Miguel (23 July 2008). "Wikipedia, Meet Knol". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 24 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  2. ^ Dawson, Christopher (28 July 2008). "Google Knol – Yup, it's a Wikipedia killer". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 15 May 2021.
  3. ^ Dawson, Christopher (17 May 2009). "Wolfram Alpha: Wikipedia killer?". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 26 October 2021.
  4. ^ Techcrunch (18 January 2010). "Is Owl AOL's Wikipedia-Killer?". Archived from the original on 24 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Wikipedia is 20, and its reputation has never been higher". The Economist. 2021-01-09. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  6. ^ Gebelhoff, Robert. "Opinion | Science shows Wikipedia is the best part of the Internet". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  7. ^ Cooke, Richard. "Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet". Wired. Wired. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  8. ^ Greene, Tristan (2017-09-20). "Forget what your school says, MIT research proves Wikipedia is a source for science". The Next Web. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  9. ^ a b c Simonite, Tom (22 October 2013). "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  10. ^ Dawson, Christopher (9 December 2008). "Will Virgin Killer be a Wikipedia killer?". ZDNet. CBS Interactive.
  11. ^ a b c Lih, Andrew (20 June 2015). "Can Wikipedia Survive?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  12. ^ Halfaker, Aaron; Geiger, R. Stuart; Morgan, Jonathan T.; Riedl, John (28 December 2012). "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System" (PDF). American Behavioral Scientist. 57 (5): 664–688. doi:10.1177/0002764212469365. S2CID 144208941. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 August 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  13. ^ Chen, Adrian (4 August 2011). "Wikipedia Is Slowly Dying". Gawker. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Brown, Andrew (25 June 2015). "Wikipedia editors are a dying breed. The reason? Mobile". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 April 2019. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  15. ^ Angwin, Julia; Fowler, Geoffrey A. (27 November 2009). "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 25 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  16. ^ Derakhshan, Hossein (19 October 2017). "How Social Media Endangers Knowledge". Wired. Archived from the original on 22 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  17. ^ James, Andrea (14 February 2017). "Watching Wikipedia's extinction event from a distance". Boing Boing. Archived from the original on 24 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  18. ^ Carr, Nicholas G. (24 May 2006). "The death of Wikipedia". ROUGH TYPE. Archived from the original on 24 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  19. ^ Meyer, Robinson (16 July 2012). "3 Charts That Show How Wikipedia Is Running Out of Admins". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 28 March 2017. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  20. ^ Henderson, William (5 September 2012). "Wikipedia reaches a turning point: it's losing administrators faster than it can appoint them". Telegraph. Archived from the original on 4 December 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  21. ^ Sankin, Aaron. "Archive of deleted Wikipedia articles reveals site's imperfections". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 10, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2019. Wikipedia, which has an entry on fart jokes, still deems some topics unworthy of inclusion.
  22. ^ "Main Page -". Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  23. ^ "Wikipedia Statistics (English)".
  24. ^ a b c "The future of Wikipedia: WikiPeaks?". The Economist. March 1, 2014. Archived from the original on April 8, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  25. ^ Andrew Lih. Wikipedia. Alternative edit policies at Wikipedia in other languages.
  26. ^ Simonite, Tom (October 22, 2013). "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on June 19, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  27. ^ Wilson, Chris (January 14, 2016). "Why Wikipedia Is in Trouble". Time. Retrieved June 22, 2021.
  28. ^ a b Dewey, Caitlin (December 2, 2015). "Internet Culture: Wikipedia has a ton of money. So why is it begging you to donate yours?". Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 10, 2018. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  29. ^ Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2020-11-01/In focus

Further reading[edit]