Wikpedia – can the pioneer stay relevant?

Wikipedia pioneered collective intelligence online over a decade ago. However, in a changing online world, many question the relevance of Wikipedia going forward.

Wikipedia, launched in 2001, quickly became the encyclopedia of the online world. The free-content online encyclopedia is now the 7th most visited website according to Alexa Internet’s traffic rank (as of August 2015), and its crowd-knowledge model has shown that together humans can build a knowledge platform of impressive scale online, unrivalled by any other knowledge-gathering effort.


Wikipedia is a portmanteau of the words “wiki” – a website that allows collaborative modification of its content and structure directly from the web browser, and “encyclopedia”. Through its collaborative nature (Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia/database where a large amount of volunteers produce the content for free and can edit existing posts), the website is able to leverage the power of the crowds to cover a vast amount of topics. With ~27 million editors, the English version alone quickly became larger than the Yongle encyclopedia, which was the largest for more than 600 years.

Wikipedia is perhaps the purest form of collective intelligence: Value is created by having the users create the articles, making them available for free to other users. Contributors to Wikipedia seek to collaboratively identify and publish true facts about the world. This ongoing mission differs from a traditional encyclopedia – Wikipedia is updated shortly after an event (performing a Wikipedia search after a major global event is quite interesting – key  facts are often updated within minutes by a volunteer). Even though a traditional encyclopedia in theory could do the same online, it would never be able to employ the necessary human resources to make all the updates on a continuous basis. On Wikipedia, it appears to be at least “one nerd per topic”.

Wikpedia is changed to a “.org” from a “.com” address to denote its non-commercial nature. Its co-founder Jimmy Wales’ net worth is ~1musd, and he is very clear that he does not want to commercial the site through advertisements and other monetization efforts. However, this idealistic policy makes the website dependent on donations from its many users to continue its operations. Furthermore, donations are given only if the website manages to stay relevant and Wikipedia faces a number of challenges to stay relevant in a changing online world:

  • Increased competition is a major challenge – Google’s “Knowledge Graphs”, showing a definition below your search (e.g. if you Google-search “Deepwater drilling”, a definition will appear before relevant links), is in many ways a “Wikipedia within Google search”. Google is able to leverage its knowledge of the online world to pull out a definition, making it unnecessary to visit Wikipedia (however many of the definitions are pulled from Wikipedia)
  • Q&A pages such as “Yahoo Answers” create communities where users can get answers to very specific questions without having to do the homework themselves on Wikipedia
  • Furthermore, 85% of Wikipedia’s editors are male, making it hard to believe that the site accomplishes its mission to become “the sum of all human knowledge”. Mr. Wales acknowledges that this is a huge problem

Despite not being perfect by all measures, Wikipedia has shown the power of the crowd in gathering knowledge and spreading knowledge to all corners of the world. Where the future takes it will depend on whether they community is able to engage a wider number of editors, and whether the tech giants push for their own knowledge platforms going forward.


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Student comments on Wikpedia – can the pioneer stay relevant?

  1. Wikipedia has managed to remain true to crowdsourcing. Commercializing Wikipedia could perhaps help grow, verify, and keep its content and format relevant (imagine wiki answers instead of yahoo answers!). However, does Wikipedia’s non-commercial nature add value in the eyes of consumers? If not, then I would agree withy you in that Wikipedia is at great risk of being pushed out by tech giants.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing! I agree that Wikipedia will continue to struggle to remain relevant going forward, given the increasingly competitive landscape for this type of information. In addition to the challenges you mentioned, I think another key challenge will be continued quality control and accuracy of the content Wikipedia contributors put forward. If Wikipedia doesn’t manage to keep content relevant and accurate, then users will likely lose interest. Lastly, I don’t know if the value proposition for contributors is sustainable in the long run if they don’t have incentives beyond identifying and publishing true facts about the world.

  3. Thanks for the post FB. I think what differentiates Wikipedia is the fact that it has a huge first-mover advantage, which helped it accumulate a large amount of information about almost everything. However, it is unclear who owns the information, and whether it can be transferred to other websites that can spend time to ensure the consistency and quality of information. Although Google presents a summary of words searched, this will not replace Wikipedia as it is only a short summary and it is not available for every word searched, causing it to be slightly unreliable as a consistent source of information. I believe that the website has built a strong brand name of providing information about everything; yet, with question marks regarding the reliability and quality of information. For example, for academic and professional research, Wikipedia will never be the source to look at, but I think that it will continue to have a strong presence for everyday search until another company builds an encyclopedia that is as comprehensive and that creates more stickiness to its platform by incentivizing users to add and edit information, which Wikipedia currently does not provide.

  4. I think what differentiates Wikipedia from a Yahoo Answers type site is reliability. Many of the people answering questions on Yahoo answers are laughably incorrect- I can even find that on the Wikipedia page for Yahoo answers which tells me “The number of poorly formed questions and inaccurate answers has made the site a target of ridicule.”. Wikipedia’s editors keep an incredibly high standard for content, minimizing trolling and inaccuracies. As long as they can maintain that, I have a hard time believing that another company is going to make a better or more used online encyclopedia.

  5. I Love Wikipedia and use it a lot! Close monitoring is required not only from other users but from Wikipedia owners to make sure the content is relevant and accurate.

  6. Appreciate your perspective on the competitive landscape for Wikipedia. Seems like their value creation will really be called into question with other major players. I particularly think Google results presents a threat, since it often displays summary content directly from Wikipedia and greatly reduces click through to Wikipedia if a user only needs a high level overview. Perhaps if they had a more robust value capture model all along, they would have thought about ways to make the platform more sticky…

  7. Great post! I actually think Wikipedia will continue to be relevant precisely because of the fact that it’s crowdsourced! Google’s capabilities still require you to string together the relevant bits of info, whereas Wikipedia has most of the info in a single article. Value creating for users everywhere! Until Google and Yahoo answers can do that, Wikipedia will stay in my opinion.

  8. Interesting post. I think Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers have some overlap but I think people use both services for different purposes. Wikipedia is more for a general but comprehensive overview of a topic and Yahoo Answers is more for very specific questions that may not be answered by an encyclopedia. Some questions on Yahoo Answers don’t even have right answers if someone asks an opinion on a topic.

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