July 17, 2012 at 2:19 PM ET
Hey boys and girls! Want to be a Wikipedia administrator when you grow up? Then start eating your Wheaties and studying now.
In story about Wikipedia's decline in site admins, Robinson Meyer reports in The Atlantic that a promotion from unpaid volunteer editor to unpaid volunteer administrator (nicknamed "admins" or "sysops") includes the power to "delete posts, block editors and protect pages that are in the news or being vandalized." As such, getting the upgrade doesn't come easily. You've got to undergo an arduous application process, which could explain the decline in volunteers. Since 2005, when 68 people became admins on the English version of Wikipedia, numbers have steadily declined to the single digits.
It wasn't always so. While attending Wikimania last Friday in Washington, D.C. — "the conference for the entire Wikimedia movement" — Meyer spoke to Andrew Lih, author of "The Wikipedia Revolution" and a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, who gave him some background:
In the early days of Wikipedia (Lih became an admin in October 2003), editors were promoted to admin-status almost as a perk: someone else would nominate you, others would affirm, and after about a week you'd have new privileges around the site. "If you proved you weren't a bozo," said Lih, the process was easy.
But the process has gotten more and more intense over the years. Applying to become an admin now involves answering questions about copyright law. You have to write essays about notability and explain how you would act in hypothetical situations. And other Wikipedia editors dig deep into your distant edit history, find any testy discussions you got in and grill you about them.
Now, "the vetting process is akin to putting someone through the Supreme Court," Lih told Meyer. "It's pretty much a hazing ritual at this point."
Still, Meyer points out that Wikipedia "isn't starving for stewardship or editorship yet," and notes that the Wikimania conference "filled rooms and rooms of George Washington University's student center with chipper, engaged Wikipedians (though they remain, alas, mostly male)." However, the decline in editors is a concern. As such, Wikimedia — the organization that runs Wikipedia — introduced a new text editor last year to make it easier for new authors to join the online encyclopedia.
Read Meyer's full report, 3 Charts That Show How Wikipedia Is Running Out of Admins, here.